The number of signatories to a landmark Scientific Declaration on Polio Eradication topped 3,000 people—scientists, physicians and public health experts—from 113 countries on Monday.
The declaration called for an urgent action to end polio for good.
The call comes ahead of polio pledging event on 18 October during the World Health Summit in Berlin, where the GPEI is asking for US$4.8 billion to back its eradication strategy and stop the spread of polio within the next five years.
The declaration has so far garnered the support of over 890 scientists from the African Region, including hundreds from Nigeria and dozens more from Kenya, Ethiopia and Cameroon.
The declaration is the focus of an ongoing advocacy campaign and co-led by 10 leading health experts from across the world, including Dr. Rose Gana Fomban Leke, Chair of the Africa Regional Certification Commission and Dr. Ilesh Jani, Director-General of Mozambique’s NIH.
The Declaration lays out the urgent need to end polio now, while offering expert perspective on the promise of the new tools in the GPEI’s 2022-2026 Strategy, the benefits of polio investments on health systems, and the unacceptable consequences of failing to eradicate the disease.
The signatories call on all partners, donors, polio-affected country leaders, and communities to recommit to the goal of eradication and fully fund the polio program, ensuring children everywhere are protected from this devastating preventable disease.
It comes amidst concerns that recent challenges that underscore the need to eradicate polio:
- An outbreak of type 1 wild poliovirus in Malawi and Mozambique this year, genetically linked to polio detected in 2019 in Pakistan, underscores the importance for all countries to prioritize immunization activities to prevent future importations while continuing efforts to permanently interrupt polio transmission in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
- The recent discovery of poliovirus in both the United Kingdom and the United States, countries that eliminated polio decades ago, shows once again that poliovirus anywhere is a threat everywhere.
- The unprecedented floods and displacement of people in Sindh and Baluchistan provinces of Pakistan this year threaten further disruptions to immunization services and reversal of polio gains. This must be avoided at all costs.
- Variant poliovirus outbreaks pose a serious and growing threat in under-immunized populations, particularly in a few hard-to-reach regions in Africa.
New tools and approaches
One new tool is the novel oral polio vaccine, and scientists believe eradication of polio is achievable.
- Polio vaccines are highly effective, as evidenced by the eradication of wild types 2 and 3 in 2015 and 2019, respectively. Only wild poliovirus type 1 remains. But it is vaccination that prevents polio, not vaccines. It is critical to vaccinate every last child to terminate the final chains of transmission and eradicate the disease.
- The GPEI 2022-2026 Strategy accelerates the rollout of a new tool – type 2 novel oral polio vaccine (nOPV2) – to help stop variant poliovirus outbreaks more sustainably. Almost 500 million doses of nOPV2 have already been administered in 21 countries. After wide-scale use of nOPV2 in 2022, there have been no new cVDPV2 emergences globally, and surveillance data continues to show that the vaccine virus is not mutating back to a virulent form.
- The strategy aims to manage vaccine misinformation through new social listening tools, coupled with strong engagement with local communities and influencers to build trust and vaccine acceptance.
- The plan strengthens the program’s partnerships with endemic, affected and high-risk countries, supporting governments to improve the management and operations of vaccination campaigns while better integrating polio activities with routine immunization services and broader health programs that meet the needs of communities.
Eradicating polio by extension strengthens pandemic preparedness, as well as health and immunisation systems around the world.
- The tools, infrastructure, and knowledge developed to eradicate polio have saved countless lives across the globe. Polio workers have long delivered other important health interventions and services to children, including measles vaccines and other routine immunizations, birth registration, counselling on breastfeeding, Vitamin A supplementation, promotion of handwashing, and the prevention and treatment of diarrhoea.
- The polio program has established an active global surveillance system that is unique in scale and capacity, including 145 laboratories across 92 countries. This intricate network is now being used beyond polio eradication, detecting and responding to COVID-19 and other public health threats, including measles, yellow fever, neonatal tetanus and avian influenza. This extensive, high-quality surveillance system ensures the early detection of outbreaks and timely response campaigns, minimizing the risk and consequences of additional spread.
- Since the first days of the COVID-19 pandemic, polio staff, resources and infrastructure in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and many polio-affected countries in Africa have been instrumental as the first line of defence to help combat COVID-19. The expertise of polio workers and the tools developed to track the virus and deliver vaccines continue to bolster governments as they respond to the pandemic.
- An investment in polio is also an investment in health and information systems at large, including strengthening pandemic preparedness and response, as evidenced by the crucial support the polio program has provided in response to other health emergencies. Fragile states in particular are heavily dependent on polio infrastructure and GPEI funding for immunization and primary health care delivery.
The declaration calls for full funding of polio efforts, noting that failing to do so would create unacceptable risks and consequences.
- Investing in polio eradication is highly cost-effective and could save an estimated US $33.1 billion this century, compared to the cost of merely controlling the virus and responding continuously to outbreaks⁵.
- Failure to reach eradication and the subsequent termination of the GPEI could result in a global resurgence of polio, leading to significantly more cases of wild poliovirus (WPV) and further spread of variant poliovirus outbreaks⁶. It would also have a hugely negative impact on general immunization and vaccine equity efforts, especially for expanded programs on immunization (EPI), in countries around the world.