Watch this animation to learn how the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) intends to reinvigorate polio prevention and outbreak response with the bold new GPEI Strategy for 2022-2026.

The funding will be used to vaccinate approximately 16 million children in 84 highest-risk districts. © UAE

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) on July 24 announced an additional US$9.5 million support to the Pakistan Polio Eradication Initiative (PEI). The funding will be used to vaccinate approximately 16 million children during door-to-door immunization campaigns in 84 highest-risk districts as well as an additional US$376,000 to provide personal protective equipment against COVID-19 for the frontline campaign workers.

The funding, which will be utilized from July to December, brings to more than US$23 million made available by the UAE in 2021. The Emirates, a long-time supporter of Pakistan’s polio programme and its main funder, has provided over US$200 million in financial support since 2014. Pakistan is one of two countries where wild poliovirus remains endemic.

Speaking on behalf of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, Dr Palitha Mahipala, the World Health Organization Representative in Pakistan, thanked the UAE for its generous contribution, noting the UAE’s steadfast commitment not only to protecting children from lifelong paralysis but to the overall goal of polio eradication.

“The UAE has firmly stood by the polio programme with vital yearly contributions and in pleas for extra funding to address unforeseen challenges such as COVID-19,” he said. “This would not be possible without their support.”

Only one case of wild poliovirus has been reported in Pakistan in the first six months of the year, a significant decrease from the 59 cases reported during the same period in 2020. In order to be certified polio-free, Pakistan is required to report zero cases of wild poliovirus over a three-year period. The Government of Pakistan remains fully committed to reaching the goal of zero in the coming months.

The Emirates Polio Campaign plays an important role in driving eradication efforts at the frontline of Pakistan’s most vulnerable communities. © UAE

Through the Emirates Polio Campaign initiative, the UAE Pakistan Assistance Programme (UAE-PAP) plays an important role in driving eradication efforts at the frontline of Pakistan’s most vulnerable communities. In 2020, as part of the Emirates Polio Campaign, UAE-PAP support ensured close to 16 million children under five years of age received protection through repeated polio campaigns and all frontline workers in 84 districts received personal protective equipment and training to facilitate protection from COVID-19.

“The efforts and sacrifices of the field vaccination teams, who faced difficult field conditions and dangerous challenges, greatly contribute to the success of the campaigns and reducing the spread of poliovirus in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan,” said Mr. Abdullah Alghfeli, Director of the UAE-PAP.

Mr. Abdullah praised the humanitarian approach and the generous support of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, adding that His Highness’s humanitarian initiative to eradicate polio is a major factor contributing to the elimination of the disease.

Dr Shahzad Baig, National Coordinator of the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) for polio eradication warmly welcomed the contribution as an important boost in ensuring the programme continued door-to-door polio campaigns, the most effective way of immunizing against the virus, and ending polio in Pakistan.

“We are getting closer to our goal but this is not the time to be complacent,” he warned. “We are re-doubling our efforts to ensure the gains of the past don’t slip away.”

Zubaida Bibi leads a team in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in the country’s north. © WHO/EMRO

Health interventions and immunization activities are most effective when delivered by women.  During each nationwide polio vaccination campaign in Pakistan, women make up around 62 percent of the 280, 000+ frontline workforce vaccinating millions of children across the country.

With each campaign depending on the dedication of staff to reach all children, given their trusted roles and responsibilities in communities, female polio frontline workers are playing a key role in eradicating polio.

Breaking barriers to immunization

After three years as a monitor of campaign activities, Zubaida Bibi has progressed from being a polio team member to a team leader in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in the country’s north, one of the most affected areas in Pakistan.

Breaking the gender-related barriers to immunization, Zubaida travels extensively including hard-to-reach areas. Not even the winter season, when the roads and tracks are covered with snow, deters Zubaida.

“I would always tell them that the polio vaccine is totally safe for their children,” says Shumaila Majeed at work in Lahore. © Hassan Raza

“It leaves us with no option but to travel for miles and hours on foot to reach the children,” she says “Despite the challenges, I always try and motivate my teams, telling them that we are on a national mission to save the future of our children,” she says.

“It gives me a feeling of gratitude and satisfaction when the community appreciates our efforts for improving the health of their children,” adds Zubaida.

Building trust

For nine years, Shumaila Majeed has worked as a community-based health worker in Lahore, with a firm belief in empowering women and supporting their important presence in the polio programme.

Mothers would frequently ask her about the safety of the polio vaccine. “I would always tell them that the polio vaccine is totally safe for their children and build their trust,” says Shumaila.

“It’s very important to have women in every walk of life,” she explains. “Not only because women and grandmothers feel more comfortable when their children are vaccinated but to give more opportunities for woman to grow and excel.”

Through her work Shumaila wants to give young girls a message: stay focused on their goals and leave no stone unturned to make their dreams come true.

Persuading parents

In Pakistan, a significant number of parents and caregivers still doubt the effectiveness of vaccines. Karachi has long been a core reservoir for the poliovirus, with continuous and intense circulation.

Shagufta Naz, a community-based health worker in charge of Gulshan town, has been working for 21 years to ensure all children in her area are vaccinated on time. “Initially, parents used to hide their children from us due to their fear,” she explains.

Shagufta Naz is a trusted source of information about polio for her community in Karachi. © WHO/EMRO

Everyone who works with Shagufta is immediately impressed by her great care, her attention to detail and her meticulous record-keeping which is key to achieving vaccination targets. As a result of Shagufta’s hard work, vaccine refusals have reduced significantly. Her work is now so highly regarded that some parents will only have their children vaccinated by Shagufta, asking for her by name with each polio campaign.

“I got to know the community very well, built their trust,” she explains. “I know every pregnant woman and can tell you when she is due. Now, mothers regularly ask me about the next vaccination campaign.”

Going against all odds

Gul Parana, a Tehsil Communication Officer for the polio eradication programme in Balochistan province in the country’s southwest, recently graduated with a master’s degree.

Assigned to raise awareness about the benefits of vaccination in Chaman District, one of the most challenging areas for the polio programme, she is proud of her work despite many challenges.

Gul Parana raises awareness about the benefits of vaccination in remote Chaman District in Balochistan province. © WHO/EMRO

“Since Chaman is a very remote and conservative area, it’s not easy for a young girl like me to go out of the house. Most of my friends are not allowed to work. But I have a mission to save our children and give them a healthy future,” she says.

With support of her family, Gul Parana has become a symbol of strength for the girls of her locality. “I want to inspire other girls so they can also get an education and work. We need to have equal opportunities for every girl in Balochistan,” she adds.

Egypt’s Minister of Health and Population, H.E Dr Hala Zayed, one of the elected co-chairs for the new subcommittee, making her interventions during the inaugural meeting on 16 March, 2021. © WHO/EMRO

The new Regional Subcommittee brings together ministers of health from Member States across the Eastern Mediterranean Region to tackle some of the persistent high-level challenges to polio eradication. Those include raising the visibility of polio eradication as a regional public health emergency and priority and mustering the political support and domestic financial support needed to finish the job.

During the inaugural meeting convened by the Regional Director, Dr Ahmed Al-Mandhari, two co-chairs were elected to drive the regional push: Egypt’s Minister of Health and Population, H.E Dr Hala Zayed, and the Minister of Health and Prevention of the United Arab Emirates, H.E. Abdul Rahman Mohammed Al Oweis.

H.E. Abdul Rahman Mohammed Al Oweis was represented at the meeting by Dr Hussain Al Rand, the Assistant Undersecretary for Health Centres and Clinics and Public Health, United Arab Emirates. Both Member States flagged the urgency of the state of polio transmission in the last polio-endemic region at present, but also the opportunity to leverage greater regional coordination to achieve eradication.

Polio eradicators around the world know that ours is, in many ways, a grassroots programme: we use microplans to work through neighbourhoods door to door, household to household. But big-picture solidarity is needed to maximize the success of our ground-level efforts.

Wild poliovirus transmission has spread beyond core reservoirs of polio endemic Afghanistan and Pakistan, infecting 140 children in 2020. Outbreaks of circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 1 (cVDPV1) paralysed 29 children in Yemen. Type 2 outbreaks spread across the Region in 2020, paralysing 308 children in Afghanistan, 135 in Pakistan, 58 in Sudan and 14 in Somalia. At a time like this, moving forward as a region and as blocs, rather than on a country-by-country basis, is critical.

One of the issues identified by Member States as critical to stopping transmission is the movement of people across borders, and ensuring that surveillance and vaccination efforts target the increasing number of people who regularly cross borders across the region – whether they are moving as a consequence of conflict, environmental crises or economic necessity.

Interventions were made by Afghanistan, Egypt, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iraq, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. All statements reaffirmed strong support for the establishment of the subcommittee under the Regional Committee Resolution on polio eradication adopted in 2020.

Members of the subcommittee were unanimous in their commitment to engage in coordinated action and support of regional polio eradication efforts in four strategic areas. These include raising the visibility of the polio emergency in the Region, pushing for collective public health action, strengthening efforts to transition polio assets and infrastructure and advocating for the mobilization of national and international funding to achieve and sustain polio eradication.

A theme that ran through all Member States’ interventions was the idea of maximizing the resources already in place – including the workers, the polio and EPI infrastructure a across the region, and the array of community leadership groups with which the polio programme has worked in past.

“Last year or the year before the year before there was a meeting in Muscat with religious leaders from different countries, and I think we need to capitalize on their support. We need to give them ownership,” said Dr Ahmed Al Saidi, Minister of Health, Oman.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an outsized impact on polio programmes across the region. The four-month pause in vaccination, from March-July 2020, gave the virus a window to spread almost unchecked. While we are immensely proud to have shouldered much of the COVID response burden, with GPEI infrastructure still supporting that response, this has come at a cost: nearly 80 million vaccination opportunities were lost.

“But we are moving forward, making up lost ground and, through this new Regional Subcommittee, leveraging the credibility that the polio programme has built through its pivot to COVID-19 and back again to polio,” said Dr Hamid Jafari, Director of the regional polio programme and co-facilitator of the Regional Subcommittee.

That credibility is now the polio’s most valuable asset: the proof that polio programmes are not just a means to battle polio, but sophisticated, fast-moving public health assets skilled in pandemic response.

The subcommittee will report its progress to WHO’s governing bodies meetings, including the World Health Assembly and the Regional Committee for the Eastern Mediterranean.

The Secretariat, which is made up of the office of the Regional Director and members of the regional polio eradication programme from WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean Region, will support the subcommittee to develop a programme of work based on the key outputs of the group.

Press Statement following inaugural meeting.

Heather meeting an all-women vaccinator team in Lao PDR. Over the last few years, she has played a crucial role encouraging members of the polio programme to “put on their gender glasses”. © Heather Monnet

Throughout her career as a Resource Mobilization Officer for WHO’s polio eradication programme, Heather Monnet has held onto her vision of a polio-free world. A respected communicator with a deep understanding of the polio programme, she was one of the first in the programme to realize that considering gender is crucial to defeat the poliovirus. Since 2017, she has successfully “led from behind”, supporting the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) to develop a gender strategy and workstream which has become a model for other United Nations programmes, and which is designed to overcome some of the most intractable challenges facing polio eradicators.

Describing her motivation, Heather describes “putting on her gender glasses”. She explains, “We had reached a point where it seemed like we had turned nearly every stone to eradicate polio, and yet we had not defeated the disease. At the same time, the introduction of the sustainable development goals had led to an increasing awareness of gender. I began to think more about how gender affects health and health-seeking behaviors.”

“I was not, and am still not a gender expert, but as Member States began to speak more about this issue, it was increasingly on my radar. Putting on my “gender glasses”, I realized that gender was an unexplored intersection for polio eradication, and it could be transformative for our work.”

The case for considering gender

Heather holding a Rotary EndPolio bear, sold by UK Rotarians to raise money for polio eradication. © Heather Monnet

In polio eradication, areas where gender intersects with health delivery include exploring whether boys and girls are equally as likely to receive the polio vaccine, and if gender norms impact whether mothers are able to take their children to health centres for routine immunization.

In some places, such as in Nigeria, women are often more effective at delivering the polio vaccine than men, as it is more culturally acceptable for them to interact with mothers and enter homes to vaccinate the smallest children. The GPEI Gender Technical Brief showed how the presence of female health workers in Pakistan has been associated with substantial increases in tetanus vaccine coverage, attended births, and full immunization coverage of children.

To explore and respond to the gender dynamics of polio eradication, the GPEI has published a comprehensive gender equality strategy. A dedicated gender analyst works in the polio programme at WHO headquarters, and gender focal points have been appointed at regional levels and in some country offices. Data is now routinely disaggregated by sex, and there has been a concerted effort to use gender analyses to inform programme policy. The team are currently engaged in implementing the GPEI gender strategy as well as supporting efforts to mainstream gender across WHO, including through a dedicated gender data working group.

Advocating for consideration of gender within the programme has not always been easy. Heather explains, “The polio programme is huge and so many people are involved. Encouraging people to put on their ‘gender glasses’ even for five minutes can be a challenge. But what is really encouraging is that once we educate people about how gender impacts their work, they often have an “aha” moment.”

“The next and crucial steps are striving to ensure that the gender strategy is implemented. This requires all those involved in polio to be engaged – whether it’s designing a gender-inclusive microplan, collecting sex-disaggregated data during a campaign, or considering how gender impacts the way we pay vaccinators. As we integrate gender into our work, we also need to identify the building blocks to ensure that this workstream is sustainably mainstreamed. This is not dependent on one person – rather it takes everyone having exposure.”

Polio Gender Champions

The GPEI gender workstream is supported by Polio Gender Champions, who work to raise the voices of those engaged in the programme. Champions include Senator Hon Marise Payne, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women, Wendy Morton, Minister of European Neighbourhood and the Americas at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office in the United Kingdom, and Arancha González Laya, who is the Spanish Minister for Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation.

Heather explains that the vision and leadership of the gender champions is crucial for achieving change. “The gender champions amplify the voices of those who don’t have a megaphone on the global stage and whose voices need to be heard. For instance, female frontline workers have a lot to say, but their voices aren’t always listened to. Our gender champions raise up these voices from the field.”

The GPEI Gender Strategy outlines key intersections between gender and polio eradication and sets out a framework for mainstreaming gender into the programme. © WHO Afghanistan/Roya Haidari

“This feeds into our attempts to improve the way that health is delivered. We know that most healthcare is delivered by women, but the systems to deliver it are designed by men. Practical steps to support women employed by the programme may include ensuring that polio vaccination training materials can be understood by individuals with lower literacy, and ensuring that there are safe, private bathrooms available for women to use during long campaign days. When we plan routes to deliver vaccines from house to house, we should consider that women might prefer to take a different route which gives them a greater feeling of personal security. Women may not feel comfortable speaking about these issues to a male supervisor, so we must also ensure that enough female supervisors are recruited and trained. Gender champions are key to keeping these issues high on the global agenda.”

Over the last few years, the GPEI’s gender work has been recognized in multiple high-level forums, and is leading the way for other programmes. Heather identifies two moments when she felt particularly proud – when the Polio Oversight Board adopted and endorsed the GPEI gender strategy, and at a high-level meeting hosted by the Government of the United Arab Emirates in advance of the Reaching the Last Mile Forum in November 2019, during which the Canadian representative described GPEI’s gender strategy as one of the strongest in global health and noted that it should stand as an example for others.

Heather explains, “I have been inspired by what we have achieved – we have planted the seeds and the soil is now being nourished. Our work on gender is growing into something amazing – and the world is watching what it will become.”

Dr Olayinka’s work aims to overcome gender-related barriers to immunization and encourage women into the workforce. ©Folake Olayinka

Dr. Folake Olayinka has spent over 20 years working in public health, including at the frontline of efforts to eradicate polio and strengthen immunization.

“At local levels, where the rubber meets the road, we need to make things work. Frontline health workers should be supported with tools that meet their needs, and training that truly values their insights, local innovations and problem solving,” said Dr. Olayinka.

Today, as a global health leader and former John Snow, Inc. (JSI) Project Director for the USAID-funded MOMENTUM Routine Immunization Transformation and Equity Project, she continues to exchange lessons and innovative strategies from the frontlines with other parts of the world impacted by polio and low immunization coverage.

On August 25, 2020, Nigeria, previously the last stronghold of endemic wild polio in Africa, was officially declared free of wild poliovirus. One of the factors contributing to this success was the ability to provide high-quality capacity building and support to improve health workers’ competencies at all levels of the health system.

“The health workers on the frontlines – particularly the community-based workers, many of whom are women – are the backbone of all of these efforts. They operate under incredible circumstances to ensure that their communities have access to life-saving health services,” said Dr. Olayinka.

Dr. Olayinka began working on polio in 2002 in Nigeria. She worked closely with colleagues at the Nigerian Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization, the EU and UNICEF to ramp up health worker training in support of the Nigerian government’s National Program on Immunization.

Her team’s dedication was remarkable. “We were willing to go everywhere to reach the last child. Once I walked four hours to support an immunization team,” she recalls.

Shaking things up

Dr. Olayinka emphasized training quality and the use of feedback to continuously improve the training experience for health workers. She led the development of numerous training guides and materials for polio eradication and developed the country’s first Basic Guide for Routine Immunization Service Providers. She also worked closely with WHO and EU colleagues to develop the first measles campaign field training materials in Nigeria.

Knowing that training of health workers must be continuous, she introduced mentoring as an important post-training approach in Nigeria’s immunization program.

“We needed to move people towards a more interactive approach,” said Dr. Olayinka. “These approaches transfer knowledge while maintaining dignity and recognize that people in the global South have something valuable to contribute.”

Dr Olayinka has witnessed how the polio eradication programme empowers women. ©Folake Olayinka

Recalling her experience training different types of health workers and trying to promote adult learning methods, she said, “I once walked into a room of senior health commissioners from all over the country. The room was filled with the usual PowerPoints, and people were not engaged – even sleeping.”

“When I went to the front of the room for my session, I introduced myself using my first name and explained the more interactive approach that I was proposing for the training. At first people were silent, but as the training went on, they really came alive. They were engaged and now identifying the real issues and generating the types of ideas that could truly change policy and improve services – you could see their passion coming through. I felt the ship took a turn.”

Dr. Olayinka also tackled training needs at the community-level and strongly promoted the use of local languages in the training of frontline health workers, particularly social mobilizers for polio eradication.

“At local level in northern Nigeria, most people spoke Hausa; however, training materials were largely in English at the time, and many of the women who were able to enter the homes to provide polio vaccinations did not understand English.”

“The polio programme was at a crisis point and was also facing a lot of refusals. As people in the region were not receiving other basic health services, they began not to trust polio vaccination efforts as it was one of the only services they were receiving.”

A pivot was needed, with a closer examination of what was working – and what was not – for all aspects of the eradication effort.

“These women were looking for the basics: how do I answer questions from caregivers, how do I provide polio drops, how do I enter my data?” remembers Dr. Olayinka “With this insight, I developed a flip chart using pictures – I even included a photo of my own son receiving the oral polio drops. We also used the local languages, role play, peer to peer methods, and songs as part of the training methodology.”

In the area of routine immunization, Dr. Olayinka worked with her team and other partners to introduce a stronger supervision system. The system included a checklist with clear standards for supervision of routine immunization, as well as a checklist on training quality as part of the pre-campaign preparedness. This helped National Primary Health Care Development Agency staff to provide ongoing support and mentorship for health workers. Many of these approaches and materials are still being used today and are updated periodically.

At the heart of the response, you will find a woman

Dr. Olayinka worked in a particularly challenging environment in northern Nigeria. “There are gender dimensions tightly linked with socio-cultural and deep-seeded religious beliefs in the northern state”, she recalled.

Oftentimes mothers had to seek permission from their husbands before they could allow the children to be vaccinated or access health services. “Even when they understood the value, women did not have decision-making power.”

The polio programme was able to reach women in new ways. Men originally started out as polio workers, but it quickly became apparent they were missing children under five because they were not allowed into homes due to cultural norms. The solution: hire women to go door-to-door and reach populations being missed.

“The polio programme brought women out into the workforce in an unprecedented way, says Dr. Olayinka. “Women were powerful mobilizers, particularly older, respected women and could enter any home. The polio programme was one of the first programmes bringing the women out, training them how to speak to other women and community members, which gave them a standing in the community. They also received some stipends which empowered them a bit financially.”

Many of these women later transitioned to supporting broader immunization and other health efforts in their communities, leading to higher child survival rates and less disease in communities.

“This is part of my passion when I talk about integration – these women in the communities, after getting a start from the polio programme, can be trained to talk about routine immunization, use of long-lasting insecticidal nets to prevent malaria, breastfeeding, WASH etc.”

“As a result of the polio programme they have social capital that can be expanded to improve health outcomes in their communities.”

To women leaders of the future

Dr. Olayinka remains committed to elevating the contributions of frontline health workers operating in challenging situations across the world.

When asked what advice she would give to women beginning their careers in public health, Dr. Olayinka said, “Be persistent and do not give up on your dreams. Even where you face discrimination because you are a woman, be focused and persist. Ensure that you are constantly building your capacity and equip yourself.”

“Women at all levels can make a difference, so take the leap—there are no limits to what you can achieve.”

In November:

  • 1 case of Wild Polio Virus (WPV1) was confirmed
  • 39,406,287 children were vaccinated during the November NIDs
  • One million children were vaccinated at 121 critical PTPs

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In November:

  • 3 cases of Wild Polio Virus (WPV1) were confirmed
  • 54 cross-border teams and 288 permanent transit teams (PTTs) were operational across Afghanistan in November 2020.
    These teams vaccinated 79,489 and 538,674 children, respectively.

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148th session of the WHO Executive Board in Geneva, Switzerland. ©WHO / Christopher Black

Meeting virtually at this week’s WHO Executive Board (EB), global health leaders and ministers of health urged for concerted and emergency efforts to finally rid the world of polio, noting a global and collective responsibility to finish the disease once and for all. Delegates also reiterated their support for the sustainable transitioning of polio assets, recognizing that successful polio transition and polio eradication are twin goals.

Noting that endemic wild poliovirus is now restricted to just two countries – the lowest number in history – with the African region being certified as wild polio-free in August 2020, delegates urged intensified efforts to wipe out the remaining chains of transmission of this strain and prevent global resurgence. The representatives of both Pakistan and Afghanistan demonstrated strong commitments to this goal and urged collective responsibility to achieve success. Delegates also expressed strong appreciation for the establishment of the Eastern Mediterranean Ministerial Regional Subcommittee on Polio Eradication and Outbreaks, by WHO Regional Director Dr Ahmed Al-Mandhari, which focuses on critical barriers to overcome to achieve zero poliovirus.

The EB urged all stakeholders to follow WHO and UNICEF’s joint emergency call to action, launched 6 November 2020, including by prioritising polio in national budgets as they rebuild their immunization programmes in the wake of COVID-19, and urgently mobilising additional resources for polio emergency outbreak response. To address the increasing global health emergency associated with circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus (cVDPV) outbreaks, delegates expressed appreciation of new strategic approaches, including the roll-out of novel oral polio vaccine type 2 (nOPV2), a next-generation OPV aimed at more effectively and sustainably addressing these outbreaks. This vaccine, which was recently granted a WHO Emergency Use Listing recommendation, is anticipated to be initially rolled-out in the first quarter of 2021. The GPEI is working with countries affected and at high risk of cVDPV2 to prepare for possible use of the vaccine.

Amid the new COVID-19 reality, the EB also expressed deep appreciation for the GPEI’s ongoing support to COVID-19 response. In December 2020, the heads of the GPEI core partners at their final Polio Oversight Board (POB) meeting of the year, confirmed that the polio infrastructure will continue to provide such support, including to the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out.

Member States additionally reiterated their support of polio transition, emphasising the need to ensure sustained, robust public health programming. Several EB members urged for strengthening the links built between the polio, immunization and emergencies programmes during COVID-19 response in the next phase of the pandemic, including for the effective rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Children waiting at a polio vaccination campaign in Al-Mualla district, Yemen. ©WHO/EMRO

Director-General of WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, commented, “We share the understanding that polio eradication and transition are equally important targets: as we work towards eradication we must think about the future. This is how we will ensure that health systems retain capacity and are strengthened long after polio is ended.”

WHO’s Deputy Director-General, Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, noted the increasing cross-programmatic integration between polio and other public health programmes, including the introduction of integrated public health teams in countries prioritized for polio transition, bringing together polio, emergencies and immunization expertise. The Regional Director for the African Region, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, emphasised that the work of polio personnel to support the pandemic response, “highlight[s]… the importance of working in interconnected ways going forward.” Dr Al-Mandhari, addressing the delegates, said: “Polio continues to be a public health emergency of international concern. Now is the time to be shoring up the polio programme and mobilizing funding, including domestic funds, so that this remarkable public health and pandemic response mechanism can remain robust and can be integrated into broader public health services across the region. Now is the time for full regional solidarity and mobilization.”

Speaking on behalf of children worldwide, Rotary International – the civil society arm of the GPEI partnership – thanked global health leaders for their continued dedication to polio eradication and public health, sentiments echoed by several other partners, including the United Nations Foundation (UNF). UNF expressed concern about the drop in population immunity, especially for polio and measles, declared support for the joint emergency call to action to prioritize investments for preventing and responding to polio and measles outbreaks, and urged continued focus on strengthening immunization programmes. 

The EB discussion will also help inform the finalization of the new strategic plan. This strengthened strategic plan – being developed in broad consultation with partners, stakeholders and countries – is based on best practices and lessons learned, and focuses on fully implementing approaches proven to work. It is expected to be presented to the World Health Assembly in May.

“If we did not know it before, we certainly know now how quickly infectious diseases can spread across the world and wild polio is one such infectious disease.  Unlike with COVID-19, where many medical and scientific questions remain unanswered, we know precisely what it takes to stop polio,” said Aidan O’Leary, newly-appointed Director of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative at WHO. “We know how polio transmits, who is primarily at risk and we have all the tools and approaches needed to stop it. That is what this strengthened strategic plan is all about – to bring all the solutions together into a single roadmap to achieve success and through focusing on more effective implementation. What discussions at the EB this week clearly displayed is a strong global sense of commitment and solidarity to do just that: better implementation of what we know works.  Together, if we do that, success will follow and we will be able to give the world one less infectious disease to worry about, once and for all.”

Speaking more broadly on global public health issues, the EB welcomed confirmation by the United States of its intention to remain a member of WHO. In a statement by the United States, the country underscored WHO’s critical role in the world’s fight against COVID-19 and countless other threats to global health and health security, confirming it would continue to be a full participant and global leader in confronting such threats and advancing global health and health security.

Health worker Saira Faisal vaccinates a child against polio in Saddar town, Karachi, in August 2020. ©UNICEF/Pakistan

With masks on their faces and sanitizers in their pockets, an immunization team makes their way through the narrow lanes of Lahore’s historic old city.

Our children are like flowers and these anti-polio drives help them grow up healthy and strong,” says Zubair, who along with his colleague Afzal is part of Pakistan’s 260,000-strong frontline vaccinator workforce.

It is the second day of the National Immunization Days (NID) campaign, which launched on 21 September, and the third immunization drive after a four-month suspension of door-to door campaigns due to the risks associated with COVID-19.

After polio campaigns were stopped in March 2020, the number of polio cases in Pakistan continued to increase. An initial small-scale round of vaccinations resumed in July, when over 700,000 children were reached. A second round went ahead in August, where 32 million children were vaccinated across the country. In both campaigns, vaccinators took precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including wearing masks and regularly washing hands.

Making their way from the crowded streets of Taxila Gate, the polio team reaches a historic cultural hub of Lahore city called Heera Mandi.

In this neighbourhood, the team knocks on one door after another. “Sister, do you have children under five at home?”, they say.

When the answer is yes, one of the vaccinators stands to the side while Zubair hands them a hand sanitizer. They all stand at a safe distance from each other, to remain compliant with COVID-19 safety measures, and to make sure the dual message of the necessary fight against both polio and COVID-19 reaches home.

Polio Worker Aliza Mukhtiyar Using Hand Sanitizer ©WHO/EMRO

Zubair says that since the resumption of immunization campaigns in Pakistan, parents have been more enthusiastic to ensure their children are vaccinated.

Next door, a Maulana (a religious cleric) answers. When he sees the polio team, he immediately goes back inside. Team members worry that he may reject the vaccine, but soon enough, he returns with his two children.

Did you ever believe that the polio vaccination was a conspiracy?,” the Maulana is asked. In some parts of Pakistan, false rumours about the vaccine have damaged confidence in immunization, with sometimes devastating results for children subsequently infected with polio.

No Sir, only a fool can think like that,” he replies.

Afzal, another member of the immunization team, says that he finds his work fulfilling because it allows him to directly speak to parents about polio and explain that they can give their children a healthy future by vaccinating them.

With a physical disability, Afzal often faces discrimination based on his health condition. He explains that this hasn’t prevent him from pursuing his ambitions.

I never allowed my disability to become an obstacle. I completed my master’s degree while attending regular classes at college, and now I have been working with the polio programme for nine years.”

“If a family is hesitant during a polio campaign, I approach the parents,” he says. I show the parents my polio-affected leg and ask them if they really want their child to have one too. This changes hesitation to acceptance.”

Health workers like Zubair and Azfal are working every day to achieve the dream of ending polio in Pakistan. With their effort and the efforts of thousands like them, the September campaign successfully reached over 39 million children across the country. These promising results, achieved during a pandemic, are a testament to an ongoing commitment to overcome challenges and move Pakistan closer to a polio-free future.

In October:

  • 2 cases of Wild Polio Virus (WPV1) were confirmed
  • Cross-borderteams and permanent transit teams (PTTs) vaccinated 78,286 and 520,208 children respectively

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13 Novembre 2020 – Aujourd’hui, le programme de préqualification de l’Organisation mondiale de la Santé (OMS) a émis une recommandation d’autorisation d’utilisation d’urgence au titre du protocole EUL pour un nouveau vaccin antipoliomyélitique oral de type 2 (nVPO2). Le déploiement du vaccin sera ainsi autorisé pour une utilisation initiale limitée dans les pays touchés par des flambées de poliovirus circulant dérivé d’une souche vaccinale de type 2 (PVDVc2).

L’émission de cette recommandation au titre du protocole EUL pour le nVPO2 vient au terme de plusieurs mois d’analyse rigoureuse des données issues d’essais cliniques qui ont démontré l’innocuité du vaccin et une protection contre la poliomyélite comparable à celle fournie par le VPO monovalent de type 2 (VPOm2) actuellement utilisé.

Le nVPO2 est une version modifiée du VPOm2, mis au point depuis près de dix ans grâce à la collaboration d’un vaste réseau d’experts mondiaux.[1] Outre son innocuité et son efficacité, les essais cliniques montrent que ce vaccin est génétiquement plus stable que le VPOm2, ce qui réduit nettement la probabilité qu’il retrouve une forme pouvant entraîner une paralysie dans les milieux présentant un faible niveau d’immunité. Par conséquent, le nVPO2 réduit le risque de voir apparaître de nouvelles flambées de PVDVc2, même si le VPOm2 demeure un vaccin sûr et efficace qui protège contre la poliomyélite et qui a permis d’empêcher des flambées de PVDVc2 par le passé.

Qu’est qu’une autorisation d’utilisation d’urgence ?

La procédure EUL de l’OMS, anciennement connue sous le nom de procédure d’évaluation et d’homologation en situation d’urgence de l’OMS (Emergency Use Listing, EUL), a été créée pour évaluer et répertorier les nouveaux vaccins, traitements et produits diagnostiques qui ne sont pas encore homologués afin qu’ils puissent être utilisés de façon précoce et ciblée en réponse à une urgence de santé publique de portée internationale (USPPI).

 Ce mécanisme a déjà été utilisé avec succès pour accélérer la mise à disposition de produits diagnostiques pour les virus Ebola et Zika et, fin septembre, une autorisation d’utilisation d’urgence au titre du protocole EUL a été émise pour un test de diagnostic rapide de l’antigène de la COVID-19 qui donne des résultats en 30 minutes.

 Pour qu’un produit reçoive une recommandation d’utilisation au titre du protocole EUL, l’OMS et des experts indépendants examinent les données cliniques existantes afin de déterminer son innocuité, sa qualité et son efficacité, et la décision d’émettre une recommandation est fondée sur une évaluation approfondie des avantages et des risques au vu de l’urgence de santé publique.

Pendant toute la durée d’utilisation d’un produit au titre du protocole EUL, on continue à recueillir des données et à les suivre de près afin de déterminer si ce produit peut recevoir une autorisation d’utilisation d’urgence au titre du protocole EUL.

Pourquoi le protocole EUL est-il utilisé pour le nVPO2 ?

Compte tenu des situations d’urgence actuelles concernant le PVDVc2 en Afrique et en Asie et du fait que la poliomyélite est considérée depuis 2014 comme une urgence de santé publique de portée internationale (USPPI), au mois de février, le Conseil exécutif de l’OMS a prié instamment les États Membres d’accélérer les procédures d’autorisation de l’importation et de l’utilisation du nVPO2 au titre du protocole EUL au vu des résultats prometteurs de ce vaccin dans la lutte contre le PVDVc2.

Les flambées de PVDVc2 se produisent lorsque la souche affaiblie du poliovirus contenue dans le vaccin antipoliomyélitique oral (VPO) peut se propager au sein de populations sous-vaccinées pendant une période prolongée et retrouver une forme pouvant entraîner une paralysie. L’année dernière, il y a eu 366 cas de PVDVc2 dans le monde. Au cours des dix premiers mois de 2020, on a recensé 588 cas (données au 28 octobre 2020).

Outre la décision du Conseil exécutif, le Groupe stratégique consultatif d’experts (SAGE) sur la vaccination a approuvé dans son principe un cadre définissant les critères d’une utilisation initiale pour permettre le déploiement rapide et ciblé du nVPO2. À la suite de sa réunion du 5 au 7 octobre, le SAGE a également approuvé, sur le principe, que le nVPO2 devienne le vaccin de choix pour lutter contre les flambées de PVDVc2, une fois que l’examen de la période initiale d’utilisation sera terminé et que toutes les conditions d’utilisation de ce nouveau vaccin seront remplies.

Des études cliniques sur le nVPO2, menées en Belgique et au Panama, ont montré que le vaccin était sûr et efficace pour protéger contre la poliomyélite, et qu’il présentait moins de risque de retrouver une forme pouvant entraîner une paralysie dans des populations sous-vaccinées.

Au cours des six derniers mois, le programme de préqualification de l’OMS a minutieusement analysé les données émanant de ces études afin de déterminer si le nVPO2 répondait aux exigences du protocole EUL. Grâce à la recommandation au titre de ce protocole, le nVPO2 constitue désormais un moyen supplémentaire de la Stratégie de lutte contre le PVDVc2 de l’IMEP.

Quelle est la période d’utilisation initiale du nVPO2 ?

Comme le précise le cadre approuvé par le SAGE, la période d’utilisation initiale durera environ trois mois après la première utilisation du nVPO2 au titre du protocole EUL, et ce vaccin sera déployé de manière mesurée dans la lutte contre les flambées de PVDVc2.

L’IMEP travaille étroitement avec les pays touchés par des flambées de PVDVc2 afin de déterminer où le nVPO2 peut être utilisé pendant la période initiale. Cette décision s’appuiera notamment sur la situation épidémiologique actuelle et sur la capacité du pays à mener la surveillance renforcée requise en termes d’innocuité et d’efficacité du nVPO2 pendant son déploiement.

 Il est important de noter que toute décision d’utiliser le nVPO2 sera prise par le pays et soumise à l’accord des responsables concernés dans le pays et des autorités de réglementation nationales. Le VPOm2 restera disponible pour faire face aux flambées dans les pays qui ne répondent pas aux critères d’une utilisation initiale ou qui décident de ne pas utiliser le nVPO2 initialement.

 L’utilisation initiale du nVPO2 devrait avoir lieu environ cinq à huit semaines après la publication de la recommandation d’utilisation au titre du protocole EUL, en tenant compte des processus réglementaires et des approbations définitifs, de l’achat des vaccins, de l’expédition et de l’état de préparation du pays. L’IMEP continue de travailler en étroite collaboration avec les pays à haut risque, en les aidant à se préparer à utiliser le nVPO2.

Perspectives d’avenir

On continuera à recueillir des données sur le nVPO2 pendant la période d’utilisation initiale, en plus des études en cours et de celles qui seront menées prochainement.

Parallèlement à l’utilisation initiale du nVPO2, l’IMEP poursuivra la mise en œuvre des autres volets de sa stratégie globale de lutte contre les flambées de PVDVc2. Cette stratégie consiste notamment à optimiser la riposte aux flambées en utilisant le VPOm2, à renforcer la vaccination systématique avec le vaccin antipoliomyélitique inactivé dans les zones à haut risque et à veiller à ce que les stocks de VPO soient suffisants pour que chaque enfant puisse en bénéficier.

En savoir plus sur le développement de nVPO2


[1] Le nVPO2 a été mis au point grâce à un partenariat mondial réunissant de multiples agences et experts internes et externes à l’Initiative mondiale pour l’éradication de la poliomyélite (IMEP). Il s’agit notamment de Bio Farma, de l’Université d’Anvers, de la FIDEC (Fighting Infectious Diseases in Emerging Countries), du NIBSC (National Institute for Biological Standards and Control), de l’UCSF (University of California San Francisco), des CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention des États-Unis), de PATH et de la Fondation Bill et Melinda Gates.

Version française

13 November 2020 – Today, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Prequalification (PQ) program issued an Emergency Use Listing (EUL) recommendation for the type 2 novel oral polio vaccine (nOPV2). This will allow rollout of the vaccine for limited initial use in countries affected by circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2 (cVDPV2) outbreaks.

The PQ program’s issuance of an EUL recommendation for nOPV2 follows months of rigorous analysis of existing data from clinical trials of the vaccine, that have shown it to be safe and provide comparable protection against polio as the currently used type 2 monovalent OPV (mOPV2).

nOPV2 is a modified version of mOPV2 and has been in development for close to a decade thanks to the collaboration of an extensive network of global experts.[1] In addition to nOPV2’s safety and efficacy, clinical trials show the vaccine to be more genetically stable than mOPV2, making it significantly less likely to revert into a form which can cause paralysis in low immunity settings. This means a reduced risk of seeding new cVDPV2 outbreaks compared to mOPV2, which remains a safe and effective vaccine that protects against polio and has successfully stopped cVDPV2 outbreaks in the past.

What is an Emergency Use Listing?

The WHO’s EUL procedure, previously known as the Emergency Use Assessment and Listing (EUAL) procedure, was created to assess and list new and yet-to-be licensed vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics to enable their early, targeted use in response to a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).

This mechanism has previously been used to successfully accelerate the availability of diagnostic products for Ebola and Zika virus, and in late September, EUL was issued for an antigen rapid diagnostic test for COVID-19 that provides results within 30 minutes.

For a product to receive an EUL recommendation, existing clinical data is scrutinized by WHO and independent experts to determine its safety, quality and efficacy, and a decision to list is based on a thorough benefit-risk assessment considering the public health emergency.

Throughout a product’s use under EUL, data continues to be collected and closely monitored to help inform decisions about whether the emergency listing can be maintained.

Why is EUL being used for nOPV2?

In light of ongoing cVDPV2 emergencies across countries in Africa and Asia, coupled with polio’s status as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) since 2014, the WHO Executive Board urged Member States in February to expedite the processes for authorizing the importation and use of nOPV2 under the EUL given data showing the vaccine’s promise against cVDPV2s.

cVDPV2 outbreaks occur when the weakened poliovirus strain contained in the oral polio vaccine (OPV) is able to spread among under-immunized populations for a prolonged period and reverts to a form that can cause paralysis. Last year, there were 366 cases of cVDPV2 globally, while in the first 10 months of 2020 alone there have been 588 cases (data as of 28 October 2020).

In addition to the Executive Board decision, the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization endorsed in principle an initial use criteria framework to support early, targeted nOPV2 rollout. Following its 5-7 October meeting, SAGE also endorsed, in principle, that nOPV2 become the vaccine of choice in response to cVDPV2 outbreaks after review of the initial use period is completed and all requirements for nOPV2’s use are met.

Clinical studies on nOPV2, conducted in Belgium and Panama, have shown the vaccine to be safe and efficacious in protecting against polio, while carrying less risk of reverting into a form that can cause paralysis in under-immunized populations.

Data from these studies has been subject to WHO PQ program’s rigorous analysis for the past six months to determine if nOPV2 meets requirements for EUL. The EUL recommendation means nOPV2 is now an additional tool in the GPEI’s Strategy for Control of cVDPV2.

What is the initial use period for nOPV2?

The initial use period, as detailed in the SAGE-endorsed framework, will last for approximately three months following the first use of nOPV2 under EUL and will see nOPV2 deployed in a measured way to tackle ongoing outbreaks of cVDPV2.

The GPEI is working closely with countries affected by cVDPV2 outbreaks to determine where nOPV2 can be used during the initial period. Factors that will inform this decision include the current epidemiology and the country’s ability to conduct the required enhanced monitoring of nOPV2’s safety and effectiveness during rollout.

Importantly, any decision to use nOPV2 will be country-led and subject to agreement from relevant in-country officials and national regulatory authorities. mOPV2 will remain available for outbreak response in countries that do not meet initial use criteria or choose not to use nOPV2 initially.

It is anticipated that the initial use of nOPV2 will take place approximately five to eight weeks after the EUL recommendation issues, factoring in final regulatory processes and approvals, vaccine procurement, shipping and country readiness. GPEI continues to work closely with high-risk countries, supporting with preparations to use nOPV2.

Looking ahead

Data on nOPV2 will continue to be collected during the initial use period, in addition to further nOPV2 studies that are underway and will be conducted in the near future.

Alongside nOPV2’s initial use, the GPEI will continue to implement the other strands of its comprehensive strategy to control cVDPV2 outbreaks. This includes optimizing outbreak response using mOPV2, strengthening routine immunization with inactivated polio vaccine in high-risk areas, and ensuring adequate supplies of OPV are available to reach every child.

Read more on nOPV2 development


[1] A global partnership across multiple agencies and experts from within and outside of GPEI have supported nOPV2’s development. This includes Bio Farma, University of Antwerp, Fighting Infectious Diseases in Emerging Countries (FIDEC), National Institute for Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC), University of California San Francisco (UCSF), US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), PATH, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and several others.

 

Michel Zaffran

For almost five years I have had the immense privilege of heading Polio Eradication at WHO, representing the agency as we lead the Global Polio Eradication Initiative and work towards our goal of a polio-free world. Since 1988, we have reduced incidence of polio by 99.9% and more than 18 million people are walking today who would otherwise have been paralyzed. We are so close to achieving global eradication of this disease – only the second human disease ever to be eradicated, after smallpox. Now, as we progress our strategic plan to end polio by 2023, it is time to pass on the baton.

Over the last few years, we have endured daunting challenges: Fighting outbreaks in three WHO regions, battling against vaccine misinformation and facing setbacks to the eradication of polio in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I have also witnessed incredible progress made: Eradicating wild polio type 3 worldwide, succeeding against the virus in war-torn Syria, overcoming wild polio in Nigeria, and developing a new, more stable oral vaccine. We have also been joined in our efforts by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, who further strengthen our partnership.

Our impact is magnified as polio teams lead COVID-19 response operations in vulnerable contexts across the globe.

What kind of person can carry us over the finishing line to a polio-free world? From my experience I believe certain qualities are a must: a strategic thinker and a diplomat; a background in epidemiology; an engaged manager; someone with diverse field experience. They must navigate effectively between all three levels of WHO, and effectively bring the Global Polio Eradication Initiative partners together to achieve a polio-free world. They must be excited by the opportunity to engage with diverse actors – from technical colleagues and civil society representatives, to the vaccine industry. Science has paved the way to polio eradication, but it is people – and people skills – that will take us to the destination.

My successor will be joining the programme at a truly challenging time for polio eradication and for public health. To me, this also presents a unique and motivating opportunity.

In a post-COVID-19 world, our new director will lead on efforts to further define and adapt our approach to respond to the immense challenges raised by the pandemic.

Polio eradication is an exhilarating project to lead in part because the programme has the capacity to both end polio and make a significant contribution to broader global health goals. Already we are supporting countries to make life-saving gains: Increasing access to healthcare in the most remote places, strengthening routine immunization systems, implementing our gender strategy and ensuring strong disease surveillance for polio, COVID-19 and other diseases.

This job offers the opportunity to steer and influence how we integrate with other health programmes over the coming years and secure lasting assets for communities long after poliovirus is defeated.

Overcoming the last and hardest mile will require commitment and creativity. The role calls for out-of-the-box thinking and action in numerous programmatic areas: on financing, outbreak response, and ensuring adequate vaccine coverage for the hardest-to-reach children in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the only two countries that remain wild polio-endemic. My successor must simultaneously look beyond eradication of the last virus in the wild, towards safely containing all polioviruses that are kept for study post-eradication.

My experiences over the last few years have confirmed to me that this is one of the most exciting and rewarding challenges in global health, to help rid the world of a human disease for only the second time.

If you are a global health leader with the requisite passion, experience and vision for a world where no child suffers polio paralysis ever again, I will be honoured to pass on the baton to you.

More information

Deadline: 15 July 2020

Nurse Madelein Semo vaccinates a young baby with inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) at the Ngbaka health centre in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, on April 29, 2015. Gavi’s support for IPV represents the insurance policy for the success of the Polio Endgame Strategy. ©GAVI/2015/Phil Moore

On 4 June 2020, the UK Government hosted Gavi’s third donor pledging conference, the Global Vaccine Summit, to mobilize at least US$ 7.4 billion to protect the next generation with vaccines, reduce disease inequality and create a healthier, safer and more prosperous world. Responding to this unique call for global solidarity, leaders from donor countries and the private sector made unprecedented commitments of US$ 8.8 billion in order to save up to 8 million lives.

Since 2019, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) has strengthened its collaboration with Gavi, inviting Gavi to become the sixth core partner of the GPEI. While the GPEI will continue its focus on interrupting virus transmission and eradicating polio through immunization campaigns using the oral polio vaccine (OPV), Gavi’s support for the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) at an estimated cost of US$ 800 million during its 2021-25 strategic period represents the insurance policy for the success of the Polio Endgame Strategy.

Thanks to the remarkable mobilization and solidarity of leaders worldwide, Gavi will be able to maintain immunization in developing countries, mitigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Gavi will also be able to sustain health systems so that countries are ready to rapidly introduce COVID-19 vaccines. And by 2025 Gavi will have immunized more than 1.1 billion children, saving 22 million lives. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Chair of the Gavi Board, highlighted why this is so important, saying, “Vaccinations should be recognized as a global public good. With your support and commitment, we can generate US$ 70 to US$ 80 billion additional economic benefits.”

Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF, added, “We have effective vaccines against measles, polio and cholera. While circumstances may require us to temporarily pause some immunization efforts, these immunizations must restart as soon as possible, or we risk exchanging one deadly outbreak for another.” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged partners to “find safe ways to continue to deliver vaccinations during COVID-19.” GPEI, Gavi, WHO and UNICEF have issued guidance for countries to encourage resuming immunization activities once it is safe to do so, in recognition of the fact that numerous countries are facing COVID-19 and multiple other disease outbreaks.

During the Summit, top Gavi donors reaffirmed their leadership, including Norway, the UK and the USA, as well as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged £1.65 billion, recommitting the UK as Gavi’s leading donor while the Gates Foundation committed US$ 1.6 billion. More than 60 leaders from all regions of the world in the Asia-Pacific, Middle East, Africa, Europe and the Americas pledged support to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance both for its upcoming strategic period as well as for COVID-19 response.

The COVID-19 pandemic reminds us of the power of vaccines. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom noted, “COVID-19 is a devastating reminder that life is fragile, and that in our global village our individual health depends on our collective health. … Now is the moment for the world to come together in solidarity to realise the power of vaccines for everyone.” Responding to this challenge, Gavi has launched the Gavi Advance Market Commitment for COVID-19 (Gavi Covax AMC), which aims to raise additional funding in late June under the leadership of the European Union. Bill Gates,  noted, “We would have to create Gavi if it did not exist today to solve the COVID-19 crisis.”

Michel Zaffran, director of the WHO polio eradication programme, said, “Congratulations to the Gavi family for this exemplary mobilization and demonstration of global solidarity. We are immensely grateful to Gavi and its donors for their precious partnership and generous support for the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV). The COVID-19 pandemic is a terrible tragedy, which brings us together more than ever and requires to think collectively how best to address the needs of the communities.”

Rotary, one of the six GPEI partners, echoed statements from other agencies. “Rotary and its members applaud the commitment of the donors and governments who have pledged their support to ensuring that vulnerable communities can receive lifesaving vaccinations,” said Michael K. McGovern, Polio Oversight Board and Chair of Rotary’s International PolioPlus Committee. “Continued investment from the global community in programmes such as the Global Polio Eradication Initiative is crucial to not only achieving the eradication of polio, but ensuring stronger health systems worldwide. This firm commitment truly embodies the “Plus” in PolioPlus.”

While the Global Vaccine Summit secured the IPV requirements for polio eradication efforts through 2025, further financial commitment is needed for the GPEI to restart the immunizations campaigns that have been paused during the COVID-19 pandemic. More intensive and integrated immunization activities are needed to finish the job and to strengthen the capacities of the governments, health workers and networks, so that the investment in polio eradication can serve as a foundation for future pandemic response. While celebrating the success of the Global Vaccine Summit, GPEI calls for reiterated donor support to eradicate polio once and for all.

Related resources

A polio worker administering the life-saving polio drops to children in Pakistan © WHO/EMRO

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more critical than ever to recognize the power and importance of vaccines, which save millions of lives each year. Canada, the first government to contribute to the global effort to eradicate polio in 1986, has announced new investments to support immunization. Alongside renewed funding for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Honourable Karina Gould, Canada’s Minister of International Development, committed C$ 47.5 million annually over four years to support the Global Polio Eradication Initiative’s Endgame Strategy.

Due to widespread polio vaccination efforts over the past 30 years, more than 18 million people are walking today who would otherwise have been paralyzed, and cases have dropped by 99.9% thanks to the tireless efforts of health workers, local governments and global partners. The GPEI is proud to count on generous donors, including Canada, who have helped make this progress possible. This new investment will help the programme ensure gains made to date are not lost, resume activities as soon as it is feasible, implement strategies to overcome the remaining barriers to eradication, and further the dream of a polio-free world.

Minister Gould stated: “As a global community, we must work to ensure that those most vulnerable, including women and children, have access to vaccinations to keep them healthy wherever they live. COVID-19 has demonstrated that viruses do not know borders. Our health here in Canada depends on the health of everyone, everywhere. Together, we must build a more resilient planet.” The Minister added “The world has never been closer to eradicating polio, but the job is not done. With continued transmission in Afghanistan and Pakistan, we cannot afford to be complacent.”

Frontline polio workers in countries around the world are currently supporting the COVID-19 response, using networks established by the GPEI to focus on case detection, tracing, testing and data management. The G7 and the G20, including the Canadian Government, have recognized the important role GPEI assets play in strengthening health systems and advancing global health security, especially among the most vulnerable populations of the world.

In line with its feminist international assistance policy, Canada has encouraged the GPEI to build on the important role played by women in the programme, from the front lines to programme management and political leadership.

Akhil Iyer, Director of the Polio Eradication Programme at UNICEF said, “The new funding from the Canadian government is a testament to the major role played by the Canadian people in the historical fight against polio, and I am proud to be part of this endeavour as a Canadian citizen myself. Back in the 1950’s in Canada, poliovirus outbreaks could have paralysed or killed so many more children, and could have plagued the economy and pushed millions in vicious circles of poverty and ill health. But thanks to the scientific breakthrough of Dr. Leone Farrell who made mass production of polio vaccines possible, strong leadership and a learning health system, Canada was able to overcome the polio outbreaks and thrive during the following decades. It is more inspiring than ever, as we strive together to end polio from the world for good.”

Rotary clubs throughout Canada welcomed the new pledge as a continuation of the country’s leadership and partnership to end polio. Canada has worked closely with Rotary clubs in Canada since 1986 when Canada became a donor to GPEI. To date, Canadian Rotarians have raised and contributed more than US$ 41.3 million to eradication efforts.

Michel Zaffran, Director of the Polio Eradication Programme at the World Health Organization said, “I would like to express the profound gratitude of the GPEI partners to the Government and to the citizens of Canada for their tremendous support and engagement to end polio globally. The pandemic we are facing today is a stark reminder of the critical need for solidarity at all levels, international cooperation and of the power of vaccines and immunization. Canada is walking the talk: it is demonstrating once more its exemplary commitment to ensuring access to essential vaccinations, leading efforts to advance gender equality and reducing the burden of infectious diseases.”

Related resources

Global health leaders at an Executive Board Meeting. © WHO
Global health leaders at an Executive Board Meeting. © WHO

7 February 2020 – Meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, Member States of the Executive Board expressed overwhelming support to the global effort to eradicate polio, in the face of an alarming polio epidemiology which emerged in 2019.

Last year saw an upsurge of wild poliovirus cases in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and an unexpectedly large number of circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus outbreaks. To address the situation requires new energy, and Member States strongly asserted their support to urgently achieve a world free of all strains of poliovirus.

Addressing the delegations, WHO Director of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative Michel Zaffran noted the strong response of Member States to 2019 setbacks: “Witnessing the efforts of colleagues, and the commitment of national governments, I feel personally confident and optimistic that we have begun to turn things around to ensure success. I see new commitments at country level. In Pakistan, a re-launch of the effort began midway through 2019. The programme undertook an in-depth analysis of the major area-specific challenges and their root causes, which they have now started to address.”

Eradicating polio in the remaining global wild poliovirus transmission block in Afghanistan and Pakistan is critical, as failure could result in global resurgence of the disease. Modelling indicates that within ten years, 200,000 cases would be reported worldwide, every single year. The risk of global spread of communicable disease has this year been underlined by the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) situation.

Member States also almost unanimously offered their support and commitment to closing outbreaks of vaccine-derived viruses (cVDPVs), endorsing new and concerted efforts. With Africa on the verge of being certified free of wild poliovirus, WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Rebecca Moeti emphasised that the continent will continue to fully commit to eradication efforts until the cVDPV2 emergency is overcome. “New approaches and rapid response teams across the continent are intensifying their efforts in ensuring every child is reached during outbreak response, and that new outbreaks are rapidly detected and responded to.”

To this effect, the Executive Board endorsed in a Decision a new cVDPV2 outbreak response strategy, including accelerated roll-out of novel oral polio vaccine type 2 (nOPV2) to more effectively address the cVDPV2 health emergency currently affecting parts of Africa, the Middle East and the Southeast Asia region.  Novel OPV2 – a brand new tool to address outbreaks – could be available to address this health emergency as early as mid-2020 under WHO’s Emergency Use Listing procedure.

The new vaccine, however, is only half the battle, cautioned Zaffran, stressing that resources and operational improvements are needed to ensure the vaccine reaches every last child. “We also need to implement stronger outbreak response and ensure more comprehensive surveillance, both things that cost money. With thanks to the generosity of the international development community, we have mobilized pledges of US$2.6 billion made at the Last Mile Forum in Abu Dhabi just two months ago. But this will not be enough to eradicate polio and tackle these increasing number of outbreaks. We are therefore calling on member states to mobilize domestic resources to respond to outbreaks, where possible.”

Zaffran continued: “On the horizon I witness a new epidemiological situation slowly beginning to emerge. I see a new, re-launched programme which has the building blocks in place to lead us to success.  Let us not be under illusions however. This will not happen overnight and this will not be easy. The nature of the virus is that every operational improvement will take several months or longer to be reflected in epidemiology. This is the way polio eradication works: there is always a time-lag. So for now, we need to measure our progress in programmatic and operational success. We must continue our new commitments, action our new strategies, introduce new tools, monitor results and maintain our drive. Significant impact on epidemiology will subsequently follow.”

“We have a lot to do,” Zaffran concluded. “But the programme is starting 2020 on a very strong footing.  I am convinced 2020 will go down in history as the year which turned the programme around, and back onto the path towards lasting success.”

Concluding the polio deliberations and speaking on behalf of 1.2 million Rotarians worldwide, Judith Diment, Chair of the Rotary Polio Advocacy Task Force, stated: “Rotary remains fully committed to the pursuit of a polio free world, as evidenced by our extended commitment to raise 50 million dollars annually through 2023. We urge all countries to devote the national financial and human resources needed to sustain high levels of population immunity through routine immunization, mitigate the risk of polio outbreaks and avoid significant unnecessary human and financial cost. The window of opportunity to achieve a polio-free world will not remain open forever. The time for urgent action is now.”

 

Polio workers hold up a banner during a 5-day campaign to vaccinate 2.6 million children in Kenya. ©WHO/Kenya
Polio workers hold up a banner during a 5-day campaign to vaccinate 2.6 million children in Kenya in July 2019. ©WHO/Kenya

Brazzaville, 19 December 2019 – Kenya, Mozambique and Niger have curbed polio outbreaks that erupted in different episodes over the past 24 months, World Health Organization (WHO) announced.

Transmission of vaccine-derived poliovirus was detected in the three countries in 2018, affecting 12 children. No other cases have since been detected.

“Ending outbreaks in the three countries is proof that the implementation of response activities and ensuring that three rounds of high-quality immunization campaigns are conducted can stop the remaining outbreaks in the region,” said Dr Modjirom Ndoutabe, Coordinator of the WHO-led polio outbreaks Rapid Response Team for the African Region.

“We are strongly encouraged by this achievement and determined in our efforts to see polio eradicated from the continent. It is a demonstration of the commitment by Governments, WHO and our partners to ensure that future generations live free of this debilitating virus,” added Dr Ndoutabe.

Vaccine-derived polioviruses are rare, but these viruses affect unimmunized and under-immunized populations living in areas with inadequate sanitation and low levels of polio immunization. When children are immunized with the oral polio vaccine, the attenuated vaccine virus replicates in their intestines for a short time to build up the needed immunity and is then excreted in the faeces into the environment where it can mutate. If polio immunization coverage remains low in a community and sanitation remains inadequate, the mutated viruses will be transmitted to susceptible populations, leading to emergence of vaccine-derived polioviruses.

No wild poliovirus has been detected anywhere in Africa since 2016. This stands in stark contrast to 1996, a year when wild poliovirus paralysed more than 75,000 children across every country on the continent. The WHO African Region however, is currently facing outbreaks of a rare poliovirus strain known as circulating vaccine derived poliovirus.

The work of the Rapid Response team starts once the lab confirms that a sample collected from either the environment or a paralysed child is caused by a poliovirus. Every minute that passes from then means that the virus is circulating and risks infecting more children that is why the Rapid Response Team deploys with 72 hours. The team supports local health authorities in the affected country in preparing the risk assessment and outbreak response plan. Then assist with launching the emergency response vaccination campaign, called round zero, within 14 days. A second team then takes over after the first eight weeks and continues the outbreak response activities including ensuring that three more rounds of high-quality vaccination campaigns are conducted.

To end outbreak activities in an affected country national and regional disease surveillance and laboratory teams need to confirm that no polio transmission is detected in samples collected from paralysed children, children in contact, and the environment have been negative for at least nine months. Response to the polio outbreak requires a strong multisector collaboration. In these efforts, WHO with other Global Polio Eradication Initiative spearheading partners: UNICEF, Rotary International, the US Centers for Diseases Control (CDC), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and other stakeholders have been supporting the Government of Angola in implementing measures to end the transmission of the poliovirus.

Countries still experiencing outbreaks of vaccine-derived poliovirus in Africa are: Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Togo and Zambia. The risk factors for these outbreaks include weak routine vaccination coverage, vaccine refusal, difficult access to some locations and low-quality vaccination campaigns, which have made immunization of all children difficult.

Countries of the region experiencing outbreaks are continuing to implement outbreak response, following internationally-agreed guidelines and strengthening surveillance activities to rapidly detect any further cases.  To successfully implement the outbreak response required, the engagement of government authorities at all levels, civil society and the general population, is crucial to ensure that all children under the age of five are vaccinated against polio.

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Three-year-old Madsa is carried by her sister after receiving a polio vaccine during a door-to-door campaign in Maroua, Cameroon. ©Gates Archive/Dominique Catton
Three-year-old Madsa is carried by her sister after receiving a polio vaccine during a door-to-door campaign in Maroua, Cameroon. ©Gates Archive/Dominique Catton

ABU DHABI, 19 November 2019 – Today, global leaders convened at the Reaching the Last Mile (RLM) Forum in Abu Dhabi to affirm their commitment to eradicate polio and pledge US$2.6 billion as part of the first phase of the funding needed to implement the Global Polio Eradication Initiative’s Polio Endgame Strategy 2019-2023.

This pledging event comes on the heels of a major announcement last month that the world has eradicated two of the three wild poliovirus strains, leaving only wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1) still in circulation. Additionally, Nigeria – the last country in Africa to have cases of wild polio – has not seen wild polio since 2016 and the entire WHO African region could be certified wild polio-free in 2020. Thanks to the dedicated efforts of health workers, governments, donors and partners, wild polio only circulates in two countries: Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“From supporting one of the world’s largest health workforces, to reaching every last child with vaccines, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative is not only moving us closer to a polio-free world, it’s also building essential health infrastructure to address a range of other health needs,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization and Chair of the Polio Oversight Board. “We are grateful for the generous pledges made today and thank governments, donors and partners for standing with us. In particular, I would like to thank His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi for hosting the GPEI pledging moment and for his long-term support for polio eradication.”

The commitments announced today come at a critical time for the polio eradication effort. Barriers to reaching every child – including inconsistent campaign quality, insecurity, conflict, massive mobile populations, and, in some instances, parental refusal to the vaccine – have led to ongoing transmission of the wild poliovirus in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Further, low immunity to the virus in parts of Africa and Asia where not all children are vaccinated has sparked outbreaks of a rare form of the virus. To surmount these obstacles and protect 450 million children from polio every year, governments and donors announced significant new financial commitments toward the $3.27 billion needed to support the Polio Endgame Strategy.

Pledges are from a diverse array of donors, including: US$160 million from the host of the pledging moment His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi; countries, including US$215.92 million from the United States, US$160 million from the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, US$105.05 million from Germany, US$84.17 million from the Federal Government of Nigeria, US$10.83 million from Norway, US$10.29 million from Australia, US$7.4 million from Japan, US$2.22 million from Luxembourg, US$1.34 million from New Zealand, US$116,000 from Spain, and US$10,000 from Liechtenstein; GPEI partners, including US$1.08 billion from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and US$150 million from Rotary International; philanthropic organizations, including US$50 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies, US$25 million from Dalio Philanthropies, US$15 million from the Tahir Foundation, US$6.4 million from the United Nations Foundation, US$2 million from Alwaleed Philanthropies, US$1 million from the Charina Endowment Fund, and US$1 million from Ningxia Yanbao Charity Foundation; and the private sector, including US$1 million from Ahmed Al Abdulla Group, US$1 million from Al Ansari Exchange, and US$340,000 from Kasta Technologies. Earlier this month, the United Kingdom announced it would contribute up to US$514.8 million to the GPEI.

“We are proud to host the GPEI pledging moment in Abu Dhabi and thank all the attendees for their continued commitment to the eradication of polio,” said Her Excellency Reem Al Hashimy, UAE Cabinet Member and Minister of State for International Cooperation. “Since launching in 2014, the Emirates Polio Campaign has delivered more than 430 million polio vaccines in some of the most remote areas of Pakistan.  We remain firm in our mission to reach every last child and believe together we can consign polio to the pages of history.”

In addition to overcoming barriers to reach every child, this funding will ensure the resources and infrastructure built by the GPEI can support other health needs today and in the future. Polio workers deliver Vitamin A supplements, provide other vaccines like those for measles and yellow fever, counsel new mothers on breastfeeding, and strengthen disease surveillance systems to anticipate and respond to outbreaks. As part of its commitment to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment, the GPEI is also working to ensure equal participation of women at all levels of the programme.

The future of polio eradication hinges on support and engagement at all levels of the programme – from individuals to communities to local and national governments to donors. If the strategies needed to reach and vaccinate children are fully implemented and funded, we are confident that we can deliver a world where no child lives in fear of polio.

Pledge values are expressed in US dollars. View the full list of donors and pledge amounts.

Media contacts:

Oliver Rosenbauer

Communications Officer, World Health Organization

Email: rosenbauero@who.int

Tel: +41 79 500 6536

John Butler

Vice President, Global Health Strategies

Email: jbutler@globalhealthstrategies.com

Tel: +44 7502 203498

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Seven-month-old Abdihakim Osman receives double doses of the oral polio vaccine during a national immunization campaign in Hargeisa, Somaliland. G20 members are some of the most committed supporters of polio eradication efforts. ©WHO/Ilyas Ahmed
Seven-month-old Abdihakim Osman receives double doses of the oral polio vaccine during a national immunization campaign in Hargeisa, Somaliland. G20 members are some of the most committed supporters of polio eradication efforts. ©WHO/Ilyas Ahmed

G20 Health Ministers met in Okayama, Japan, on 19 and 20 October 2019 to address major global health issues in order to pave the way towards a more inclusive and sustainable world, as envisioned in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Ministers put a strong emphasis on ending polio in the resulting declaration, reaffirming their “commitment to eradicate polio”, and recognizing the remaining challenges.

Ministers welcomed next month’s pledging event. With the support of G20 members and other important global donors, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative aims to successfully raise funds to overcome the remaining challenges that face the world as we work to end polio. The pledging event will be generously hosted by the UAE and His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, as part of the Reaching the Last Mile Forum on 19 November 2019, and intends to secure the financial commitments needed for the programme to finish the job.

Ministers noted, “We are concerned with the rising number of vaccine-derived polio outbreaks. We call for a strong cross-border cooperation and strict implementation of vaccine requirements for travelers as specified in the International Health Regulations (IHR, 2005).”

The polio programme is currently responding to vaccine-derived poliovirus outbreaks in 18 countries. The encouragements of the G20 Health Ministers regarding the pledging event, IHR implementation and cross-border collaboration are welcomed as part of measures to ensure high quality comprehensive outbreak response and the ability of the programme to eradicate the virus.

In addition, Ministers expressed support for “the efforts of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (Gavi), WHO, UNICEF, and other stakeholders in strengthening routine and supplemental immunization,” and highlighted the “leadership role of WHO”. This year, Gavi has joined the Polio Oversight Board, becoming the sixth partner of the initiative. Ministers referred to the importance of “the transition of relevant polio assets” to other health programmes, a process that will be strengthened by Gavi’s partnership.

Polio eradication has an important role to play in the implementation of other global health goals. Considering this broader context, Ministers recognized that “high quality and safe primary health care including access to vaccination is a cornerstone for UHC”. Ministers noted, “We recognize that immunization is one of the most cost-effective health investments with proven strategies that make it accessible to all segments of the population with an emphasis on women and girls, the most hard-to-reach as well as the vulnerable and marginalized populations. We express our concern about vaccine hesitancy as mentioned in the WHO’s Ten threats to global health in 2019.”

Vaccination is the only way to eradicate polio and the GPEI is working tirelessly in some of the most challenging contexts to ensure all children, boys and girls, regardless of where they live, have access to life-saving vaccines.

This important statement from G20 Ministers of Health represents a continuation of the strong historical political support for polio eradication from both the G7 and the G20, at the highest levels.

The statement also follows the reaffirmation of support for polio eradication by G20 health leaders during their June 2019 summit. In this meeting, they discussed major challenges facing the world and once more communicated that “we reaffirm our commitment to eradicate polio”.

In 2020, Saudi Arabia will hold the presidency of the G20 and the US Government will hold the Presidency of the G7.

The Government of Japan, current host of the G20, is committed to the eradication of polio, providing US$ 563 million in grants to the GPEI since 1988.

Read the Okayama Declaration of the G20 Health Ministers.

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Reposted with permission from Rotary International

Vaccinating every child is the best way to end polio. © Rotary International.
Vaccinating every child is the best way to end polio. © Rotary International.

Five core partners— Rotary International, World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation— 20 million volunteers, over 2.5 billion children vaccinated, and an initiative spanning over 30 years across 200 countries.

These are the impressive numbers, people power, and the resources behind one of the biggest public-private partnerships in history: The Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

But why is polio eradication a global public health cause transcending generations, geographical boundaries, and socio-cultural constructs? Read on:

Poliovirus causes acute, non-persistent infections  
The virus causes acute, short term infections, meaning that a person infected with polio can only transmit the virus for a limited amount of time.  Prolonged infection with wild polioviruses has never been documented and in most cases infected people can only transmit the virus for 1-2 weeks.

Virus is transmitted only by infectious people or their waste
Some diseases can be transmitted in a multitude of ways, which can make a disease an impossible candidate for eradication. But the poliovirus is typically transmitted just one way: through human waste. Eradicating polio is not an easy task, but the way polio is transmitted simplifies our ability to tackle the disease.

Survival of virus in the environment is finite
Did you know there’s just one strain of wild poliovirus that continues to infect humans? (There used to be three strains of poliovirus that regularly infected humans.) The wild poliovirus cannot survive for long periods outside of the human body. If the virus cannot find an unvaccinated person to infect, it will die out. This is why we have to keep every single child vaccinated—so the virus cannot find any humans to infect. The length of poliovirus survival varies according to conditions like temperature, and the poliovirus infectivity decreases over time.

People are the only reservoir
Hundreds of diseases can be transmitted between insects, animals and humans. One of the things that makes polio eradicable is the fact that humans are the only reservoir. No poliovirus has been found to exist and spread among animals despite repeated attempts to document this.

Immunization with polio vaccine interrupts virus transmission
Not only are there two safe and effective polio vaccines, but vaccination against polio generates herd immunity, which increases the percentage of the population that is immune to the disease.

Mass campaigns using oral polio vaccine, where all children in a specified geographic area are immunized simultaneously, interrupts wild poliovirus circulation by boosting population immunity to the point that transmission of polio cannot be sustained.

But what truly drives our conviction in numbers results. Since the world took up the cause of eradicating polio globally in 1988: we have eliminated polio from 125 countries and reduced the global incidence of polio cases by 99%; and, successfully eradicated certain strains of the virus.

There are now only 3 countries that have never stopped polio transmission. This marathon of a public health endeavour is in the last mile.

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The indelible purple ink on the finger means that two-year Rajesh is protected against polio. © WHO Pakistan/ Asad Zaidi.
The indelible purple ink on the finger means that two-year Rajesh is protected against polio. © WHO Pakistan/ Asad Zaidi.

On the long road to global polio eradication, the programme has achieved four important milestones, representing four out of six WHO regions that have been certified as having interrupted transmission of wild poliovirus (WPVs):  Region of the Americas (1994), the Western Pacific Region (2000), the European Region (2002), and the South-East Asia Region (2014).

At present, only the Eastern Mediterranean and African regions—  no WPV reported in Africa since 2016, the African region may be eligible for regional certification as early as late 2019—remain to be certified in the path towards global eradication and hence constitute a key priority.

But who decides that a region is free of WPV?

The Eastern Mediterranean Regional Commission for Certification of Poliomyelitis Eradication (ERCC) is an independent body appointed in 1995 by the WHO Regional Director for Eastern Mediterranean to oversee the certification and containment processes in the region.  It is the only body with the power to certify the Region free from wild polio, which convenes annually. Here are the outcomes of the recent ERCC meeting:

Urgent need to address regional priorities

The Commission noted with concern the need to stop the ongoing wild poliovirus type 1 transmission in the only two remaining polio-endemic countries in the Region: Afghanistan and Pakistan. The RCC acknowledged the on-going eradication efforts but strongly recommended the full implementation of the respective national emergency polio programmes through complete political and programmatic support to tackle the WPV1 transmission in the common Pak-Afghan epidemiological corridor, which remains unabated. The Commission also expressed concern about the current circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2 and 3 transmissions in Somalia.

Wild poliovirus type 3 certification prospects

The Commission, however, marked the good progress made towards curbing wild poliovirus type 3 (WPV3). Extensive analyses of the stool and environmental surveillance samples provided evidence that no WPV3 is in transmission in the Region. Based on the epidemiology, EMRO – along with the rest of the world – may be up for global WPV3-free certification by the GCC, potentially certifying two of three poliovirus strains eradicated—WPV2 strain was certified as globally eradicated in 2015.

Stepping-up is the need of the hour

So far, sixty cases of WPV1 are reported from two countries (Pakistan and Afghanistan) in 2019. Given the existing WPV1 transmission in the two remaining endemic countries of the Region, the RCC asked that the Member States undertake a firm commitment necessary for reaching zero.

Eastern Mediterranean Regional Commission for Certification of Polio Eradication (ERCC)

The Thirty-third meeting of the EMRO RCC was held in Muscat, Oman, to discuss the Regional progress towards a polio-free certification. The meeting brought together members of the RCC, chairpersons of the National Certification Committees, polio programme representatives of 21 countries, and WHO staff from the headquarters, regional, and the endemic countries. Representatives from Rotary International and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were also in attendance.

Comprised of public health and scientific experts, the regional certification commissions are independent of the WHO and national polio programmes.  Global certification will follow the successful certification of all six WHO regions and will be conducted by the Global Certification Committee (GCC).

Read more.

Final reports of the annual Eastern Mediterranean Regional Certification Commission intercountry meetings.

72nd World Health Assembly. ©WHO/L.Cipriani
72nd World Health Assembly. ©WHO/L.Cipriani

Polio eradication was in high-level spotlight this week in the top echelons of global leadership as World Health Organization (WHO) Member States, donors, partners, civil society organizations, health and development actors gathered this week at the 72nd World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva, Switzerland.

In his opening address to delegates, WHO Director-General and Chair of the Polio Oversight Board (POB), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus talked about the long-winding journey of polio eradication since its adoption as a landmark resolution at the WHA in 1988 and the hopes of finishing eradication in the near future: “Together with our partners at Rotary, CDC, UNICEF, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, we have launched a new strategy to address the most difficult remaining areas in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Earlier this year I came across a video of a man called Irfanullah, wading through snow to deliver polio vaccines in Pakistan. With the dedication and commitment of people like him, I have no doubt we will succeed in making polio history.”

Member States expressed overwhelming support of the Polio Endgame Strategy 2019-2023.  The new strategy sets the stage for a decisive win against polio through the parallel pursuit of the wild poliovirus and circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus. The Strategic Plan incorporates collaboration with other health interventions, fostering stronger alliances and managerial innovations by working in close coordination with governments in endemic countries. The Member States welcomed the trifecta of Eradication, Integration, and Containment/Certification, which set the foundations of a sustainable polio-free world by anchoring polio activities within the broader immunization system, ensuring an effective transition of eradication knowledge and assets and ensuring that no poliovirus can paralyze children again.

With an eye towards an inclusive and sustainable polio-free future, there was broad consensus that all stakeholders—governments, GPEI partners, private and public donors, policy makers, health, and non-health actors— are in this together.  One of the recurring themes was the need to ensure concerted efforts—financial and programmatic— to get over the hump in this last mile over to the finish line.

The general air was that of cautious optimism, as all Member States acknowledged that the path to finishing polio eradication is well within sight, all thanks to the Endgame Plan 2013-2018 which succeeded in certifying South-East Asia (SEARO) as polio-free, brought the African Region closer than ever to eradication of wild poliovirus,  possibly eradicated two out of three wild poliovirus strains, set the world on the path of phased Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) removal, stopped outbreaks in Syria and Horn of Africa, and cornered wild poliovirus circulation to a joint cross-border reservoir between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The delegates particularly appreciated the strong commitments espoused by Afghanistan and Pakistan for a more systematic collaboration to jointly target the common wild poliovirus reservoir on all fronts with an approach that combines the scientific with the social and anthropological. Pakistan’s representative said, “We remain resolute with the highest level of political commitment… strengthening routine immunization, addressing prevalent malnutrition, and provision of safe water and sanitation are strategies being implemented in tandem. Communication challenges of low-risk perception and concerns around vaccine safety and efficacy are being addressed through a revised communication strategy. We continue to coordinate with Afghanistan programme to share experience in strategies to manage the common epidemiological block. In light of the recent cases, the Government of Pakistan has decided to carry out a comprehensive programme review on an urgent footing. I would like to sincerely thank our partners and donors who are a part of this initiative and helped us get this far. We pledge our complete commitment to reach every last child, so no future generations have to suffer from a crippling disease like polio.”

Rotary International, one of the pioneering partners of the GPEI, maintained that wild poliovirus eradication remains the overriding priority, and to that end, re-affirmed collective commitment of their 1.2 million members around the world: “It is easy to forget the hurdles we have overcome—such as: addressing outbreaks in more than 20 countries in Africa, or how India had 80% burden of the total polio caseload in the world. Our challenge is not feasibility, but determination…global commitment has brought us to the threshold of a polio-free world. Let us act with urgency to end polio forever.”

In his closing remarks, Dr Tedros thanked the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and the United Arab Emirates for hosting a pledging moment for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, “Global progress to end polio would not be possible without partners like the UAE. I would like to thank His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and the UAE – a long-time supporter of the polio programme – for agreeing to host the GPEI pledging event this November at the Reaching the Last Mile Forum, a gathering of leaders from across the global health space.”

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