More than two decades ago, I joined Rotary in his efforts to eradicate polio shortly after meeting a mother in the Pakistani city of Karachi who was struggling to take her 11-year-old son, whose feet were dry from polio. He told me that the virus had paralyzed three of his six children, which is shocking given that the disease can be easily prevented with a vaccine.
This meeting underscored for me the urgency of bringing zero cases. At the time, wild polio was paralyzing more than 1,000 children in my native Pakistan, with cases still reported in և 45 countries.
Today, the wild virus is still found in Pakistan and only in another country, Afghanistan. Five out of six regions of the world do not contain wild polio. This progress demonstrates the coordinated efforts of health care workers, governments, donor cooperation, and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), which helped Rotary establish the 1988
It was not easy to go so far in the fight against polio. The number of cases decreased over some years, but increased in other cases when new obstacles arose.
We are now close to eradicating this deadly disease, but we are facing one of our greatest challenges. So GPEI may have the support of the world community to cross the finish line.
Efforts to eradicate polio, as with any health plan, have been underway since the advent of COVID-19. Last year, vaccination campaigns were halted for four months to protect frontline workers and communities. As a result, tens of millions of children have missed the polio vaccine.
This complicated the challenges we were already facing. In recent years, there has been a resurgence of wild polio in Pakistan և Afghanistan due to insecurity, Parents have refused to vaccinate their children against the disease. And there has been cVDPV, a non-wild polio virus that is harmful to poorly immunized communities.
While these failures are disappointing, the GPEI has shown that it can make progress even when there are odds against it. The initiative has already successfully completed polio in several war zones, in the most difficult geographies of the planet.
It has shown how efforts to eradicate polio have a major impact on public health. Control of GPEI diseases during breaks in polio և Frontline workforce, including thousands of Rotary members; COVID-19 response key in almost 50 countries. They helped track down the virus, improve community-level response planning, and spread important health messages.
GPEI has recently focused its energies on three key areas that have convinced me that one day it will be able to overcome this disease forever while supporting and providing lessons for other health initiatives.
First, the GPEI promised to support the provision of vulnerable health services to meet the needs of vulnerable communities.
Many of these communities, especially in some parts of Pakistan, are tired of regular visits to polio vaccines and several other health professionals, which has had a negative impact on vaccine absorption. Although the program has in the past helped deliver other vaccines, medicines, and maternal health counseling, they will be more integrated into eradication efforts to improve health.
Second, the program expands its partnership with governments in high-risk countries where polio is affected, enables local leaders to support polio vaccination campaigns, and works with families. To that end, it was touching to hear the recent commitment of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to make polio a public health priority in Pakistan.
Finally, GPEI is working to expand the use of innovative new tools that can help us cope with polio. These include next-generation polio vaccines that can more effectively stop cVDPV outbreaks, թվ digital polio payers that help improve the effectiveness of polio vaccination campaigns, and boost incentives.
All of these tactics are part of something new GPEI Polio Elimination Strategy 2022-26“They give us a lot of hope.” But no matter how strong our program is, it will only succeed if donor governments regain the political and financial resources that the GPEI needs to end polio forever. If they are not, polio can be reborn in countries where it was previously eliminated մեկ once a year և began to paralyze tens of thousands of children.
When governments advocate eradication, they are not just working towards a future where no family will have to fear that their child will be paralyzed by a preventable disease. They also support an entire infrastructure that can protect communities from health threats, as we have seen in the case of COVID-19.
The epidemic has depleted countries’ resources, with some considering reducing their support for polio. Although these are difficult times, we cannot afford to win the fight against COVID-19 by allowing other vaccine-preventable diseases to recur. Withdrawing from polio eradication efforts now risks undoing what we have achieved over the past three decades.
Rotary promised to end polio forever, which we intend to do. Others need it too.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Al Jazeera.