Commonwealth Leaders and Polio Survivors Unite for Polio-Free World

Leaders from Malta, Canada, Nigeria, Pakistan and UK, UN Secretary-General and Commonwealth Secretary-General Designate call for one last push to end deadly disease

Commonwealth Leaders and UN Secretary General come together on the end of polio.
Commonwealth Leaders and UN Secretary General come together on the end of polio. © courtesy CHOGM

MALTA, 28 November 2015 – Commonwealth leaders united in Malta today to recommit to ending polio. During the high-level event hosted by Prime Minister Muscat of Malta at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Rotary International President Ravi Ravindran called on leaders to finish the job and eradicate polio. Standing shoulder to shoulder with polio survivor Ramesh Ferris, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan, Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion of Canada, the Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Hugo Swire of the UK, and newly elected Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland joined a packed event to commend the historic progress made against polio and commit to ending the disease once and for all.

“We will continue to offer our leadership on this issue. I believe with the support of fellow leaders we will manage to eradicate polio,” said host of the event Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

Rotary International played a key role in ensuring that leaders came together in CHOGM to recommit to the final stages of polio eradication. “Until polio is gone everywhere, it is a threat everywhere,” said Ravi Ravindran, President of Rotary International. “In 1988, we committed Rotary to ending polio. We’re sticking with it, until we have delivered a polio-free world to all future generations.”

In 1987, when Commonwealth leaders met in Vancouver, more than 350,000 cases of polio crippled and killed children in 125 countries annually. The following year, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) was formed to wipe polio off the face of the earth. Hundreds of millions of children have been reached since with lifesaving polio vaccines, which have protected an estimated 13 million people from lifelong paralysis. This year, only Pakistan and Afghanistan have had cases of wild poliovirus and there are signs of progress.

“Pakistan has made polio eradication a national cause. Our priority is to reach out to each and every child so no child remains unvaccinated,” said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. “I am pleased to note that we have been able to significantly reduce the number of polio cases in Pakistan and we will not rest until polio is eradicated from our country.”

Commonwealth heads of government have historically been at the forefront of work to eradicate polio. At the Commonwealth meeting in Perth in 2011, over $100 million in new funds were pledged toward ending polio. Since the Commonwealth’s statement of support four years ago, there has been unprecedented progress against the virus. India and the entire South East Asia Region were certified polio-free last year and dangerous outbreaks in the Horn of Africa and Middle East were stopped as well.

“We are very committed to this campaign and this issue. It is of vital importance to the people of every country,” said Australia’s Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. “It’s a great tribute to the generosity, the philanthropy, in the truest sense of the world, of the Commonwealth that polio eradication is deemed such a big priority in Malta.”

Recent estimates suggest it will cost an additional $1.5 billion to end polio and ensure that hundreds of millions of children are vaccinated multiple times against the disease. Surveillance systems will also need to be improved so that if polio outbreaks do happen, they can be stopped quickly and effectively.

“Polio struck down many of my generation, and now we are on the verge of striking down polio,” said Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations. “My thanks to the Commonwealth leaders for their support, and together, let us make the final push and wipe out polio from this earth.”

For the first time, Nigeria, one of the last polio strongholds, made history by reaching one year without registering a case of wild polio, and all countries on the African continent have now gone a year without a single case of wild polio. However, to ensure Nigeria and the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) African region do not let polio return, there will need to be increased investments in vaccinating children in hard to reach areas and strengthening surveillance.

“No case of polio was reported since July 2014. This unprecedented feat informed the decision of the WHO to delist Nigeria from polio endemic countries in October this year,” said Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Geoffrey Onyeama. “The country is poised and committed to remaining vigilant to ensure that we completely eradicate polio from Nigeria.”

Several countries that made financial commitments at the Global Vaccine Summit, which took place in Abu Dhabi in 2013, outlined their ongoing commitment.

“Canada has changed its government, but our commitment remains,” said Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion. “We were proud to commit $250 million in Abu Dhabi at the 2013 Global Vaccine Summit. We are proud to be a donor of global polio eradication efforts and we will continue to do so until polio is gone.”

“I am proud of the role the United Kingdom has played [in polio eradication], including our pledge of £300 million pounds to support the GPEI,” said the UK’s Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Hugo Swire. “I urge Commonwealth countries to demonstrate their continued resolve in this fight. Together, I believe their leadership and commitment will help the world achieve one of its greatest ever public health success stories.”

The theme of this year’s Commonwealth meeting is, ‘Adding Global Value’. Eradicating polio will not only be a major public health success, it will also mean global savings of more than US$50 billion over the next 20 years, and allow public health workers, governments and communities to apply the lessons learned in eradicating polio to other health priorities. Although polio is still endemic in only two countries, the potential for new outbreaks will persist until every country is certified polio free.

Newly elected Commonwealth Secretary-General, Baroness Patricia Scotland also joined the meeting and pledged ongoing Commonwealth support to the polio effort. “I think this is an exemplary example of what the Commonwealth can do when it collaborates and works together with focus to bring something about, and I hope this is just the beginning.”

Related News

After a thorough evaluation, an independent Polio Outbreak Response Assessment Team (OBRA), has concluded that there is no evidence of ongoing wild polio transmission in Mozambique and Malawi
Using the power of sports to unite communities in the fight against polio in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
John Sever, an infectious disease specialist and champion of Rotary’s polio eradication program, died on 25 April. He was 92.
Across Afghanistan, community advocacy to increase vaccine uptake for polio and other deadly diseases has some unsung champions: the local women