WHO Director-General and Bill Gates convene urgent meeting on polio eradication

One year after launch of new plan, infected countries and donors review effectiveness of strategies and agree on essential steps to finish the job quickly

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Co-chair Bill Gates, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan and Independent Monitoring Board chairperson Sir Liam Donaldson – BMGF/J.Morgan

17 May 2011, Geneva, Switzerland – As international public health leaders gather in Geneva this week, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr Margaret Chan and Bill Gates, Co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, met today with Ministers of Health of polio-infected countries and international development agencies, to discuss urgent steps needed to eradicate polio rapidly and efficiently.

The high-level meeting comes on the heels of the publication of a sobering report by the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB), a body set up at the request of the World Health Assembly to independently monitor progress towards a polio-free world. While affirming the effectiveness of the new Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) Strategic Plan 2010-2012 launched 12 months ago, the IMB expressed serious concern that remaining operational gaps in key infected countries are undermining progress. The IMB also identified a global funding gap of US$665 million through 2012 as the ‘single greatest threat to the GPEI’s success’.

Dr Chan and Mr Gates encouraged both infected countries and donors to intensify their efforts. “Can you give us your commitment?” Dr Chan asked each of the Ministers of Health of the countries identified by the IMB as not on track to attain the milestones set out in the Strategic Plan. Mr Gates reminded donors: “We cannot cut corners” in effective implementation of the emergency plans and reaching every last child with polio vaccine. And Sir Liam Donaldson, Chair of the IMB, noted: “There needs to be political alignment between national and local level commitment,” to ensure that vaccination campaigns are of the best quality at the district level. Sir Liam added that countries which are off-track to meet the milestones can be brought back on-track with actions by national governments, donors and GPEI spearheading partner agencies.

Health authorities from India and Nigeria outlined experiences in operational planning, political engagement and administrative accountability — which have led to the encouraging decline in polio cases in their respective countries — and further improvements in the pipeline to make the most of their gains. Health officials from countries the IMB considers to be at particular risk confirmed the development of emergency action plans to correct the situation and emphasized that an essential element of each plan was to secure stronger engagement and accountability by administrators at the sub-national level. Speaking for Pakistan, the new Minister of Health said: “We acknowledge performance gaps and commit to strengthening management of the program at the district and union council levels.”

Representing the largest civil society donor to polio eradication, Carl-Wilhelm Stenhammar (Chair, Rotary Foundation Trustees) offered frank words: “The IMB clearly stated that all Member States have decided together to eradicate polio, and that funding the effort should be a shared responsibility. We therefore invite donor governments from around the world to join the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the ongoing commitment by Rotary’s 1.2 million members worldwide, and rapidly make available flexible funding critically needed to implement all activities of the Strategic Plan.”

The event was attended by the Ministers of Health of Afghanistan, Angola, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria and Pakistan; high-level delegates from the Ministry of Health of India; and, senior representatives of international development agencies.

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