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.

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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