Finishing the job of eradicating polio will cost an additional $1.5 billion and will require enhanced vaccination and surveillance efforts in hard-to-reach places where security is a concern, officials said.
“We know what we need to do, it’s a matter of doing it,” John F. Germ, president of Rotary International, said during a news conference on Monday marking World Polio Day.
Thomas R. Frieden
Germ and other officials warned that without proper funding, the goal of eradicating polio by 2020 will be lost. The wild form of the virus only exists in three countries, including Nigeria,
where three cases were reported this year, nullifying Africa’s chances of being declared polio-free by 2017.
CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH, said recent donations to help eradicate polio have included $25 million from former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had previously given $100 million to the cause; $30 million from Ray Dalio, chairman and co-chief investment officer at Bridgewater Associates; and a $15 million anonymous donation.
“We are on the brink of eradication. The opportunity is the best it’s ever been,” Frieden said during the news conference. “We have stronger childhood immunity, stronger surveillance, but we need to reach every last child.”
Twenty-seven cases of wild polio have been diagnosed this year — all in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. That is down from 350,000 cases in 1988 when the World Health Assembly launched a goal to eradicate the disease.
“Twenty-seven cases — that’s what it comes down to. After threatening the lives of millions of millions of children, polio is almost defeated,” Reza Hossaini, polio eradication director at UNICEF, said during the news conference.
The new cases in Nigeria raised alarms that wild polio may be circulating in corners of the globe that are difficult to reach because of security issues. Frieden said the disease had been spreading in the northeastern Nigerian state of Borno for approximately 5 years before being detected.
“That means that all over the world in areas that we don’t have access to, we need to make sure that polio is not lurking,” Frieden said.
This includes areas of insecurity where it is tough to get vaccines through. The world would have to go 3 years without a new case of wild polio before it can be declared free of the disease.
“What happens if we don’t make the $1.5 billion? Polio will spread again, and if it does, it’s going to cost us billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives a year in those vulnerable children we must protect against this virus,” Germ said. “It could cost us the dream of a polio-free world.”
According to Hossaini, “massive” polio vaccination efforts are underway in Nigeria, where local military operations have freed up previously inaccessible areas, and in five neighboring countries. He called the newly diagnosed cases in Nigeria “a wakeup call.”
“We cannot afford to let go right now,” he said. “We have to reach every single child, no matter where.”
Germ said the $1.5 billion budget for eradication was set by the five partners who have joined with national governments to make up the Global Polio Eradication Initiative: the CDC, WHO, UNICEF, Rotary International and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
In addition to the hundreds of millions of children who need to be vaccinated, Germ said the funds will pay for surveillance in 72 countries.
“We have a lot of people in this world who think that polio doesn’t exist,” Germ said. “We have to continue our fight, and it’s an expensive fight.”
Disclosures: Frieden and Hossaini report no relevant financial disclosures. Germ is the president of Rotary International.