GPEI Joint Statement:
UNICEF and WHO call for emergency action to avert measles and polio epidemics
Today, Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) partners, UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO), launched a call for emergency action to avert major polio and measles epidemics. The GPEI is urging countries to prioritize polio vaccination for children as they rebuild their immunization systems following disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and is seeking US$400 million to help address dangerous immunity gaps in several countries over the 2020/2021 period. Renewed commitments from country leaders, donors, and supporters of polio eradication around the world will be essential for safely conducting critical immunization activities that protect children from these diseases.
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly disrupted efforts to combat vaccine–preventable diseases, compromised health systems, and limited access to vital treatments and immunizations around the world. From March to July this year, 60 polio vaccination campaigns in 28 countries were suspended to protect communities and staff from COVID-19, which significantly impacted eradication efforts and increased transmission of the disease. While several polio campaigns have since safely restarted, many have not as countries continue work to be able to safely carry out immunization services in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Pakistan and Afghanistan, the world’s two remaining wild polio-endemic countries, cases have risen sharply this year. In addition, outbreaks of type 2 circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus (cVDPV2), which can emerge in under-immunized communities, are of particular concern and currently spreading across parts of Africa and Asia. In the first 10 months of 2020, over 600 cVDPV2 cases have been reported from 22 countries, the most ever in a single year.
As vaccination campaigns resume in affected countries, the GPEI is executing a comprehensive strategy to tackle cVDPV2s by implementing more aggressive outbreak response using type 2 monovalent OPV (mOPV2), strengthening routine immunization in high-risk areas, and is working to introduce a new vaccine – novel OPV2 (nOPV2) – that is a modified version of mOPV2.
The global community must act with urgency to protect the significant progress that’s been made against polio and stop further transmission in places where children are at greatest risk. Funds raised through the UNICEF and WHO emergency appeal will help expand and improve outbreak response activities, increase supplies of polio vaccines, and support the roll out of nOPV2.
COVID-19 has undoubtedly presented new challenges for polio eradication, but not the first the program has faced. The GPEI has a long history of innovating and adapting to overcome challenges and is bringing that same approach to meet the current reality and deliver a world where no parent, caregiver or child lives in fear of polio.