Polio: Waiting for the Final Blow

#WHA72 committee members discuss polio eradication and plans for a polio-free world on May 23, 2019. (Image: BWS)
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#WHA72 committee members discuss polio eradication and plans for a polio-free world on May 23, 2019. (Image: BWS)

Dozens of member states pledged continued support for the global effort to eradicate polio during a #WHA72 committee meeting on Thursday morning. 

But one mattered more than most: Pakistan.

In the face of 3 decades of effort, wild poliovirus stubbornly persists. There have been 22 documented cases of wild poliovirus so far this year: all in Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. (The number was upped this morning to 26.) Last year, 33 cases were reported, WHO reports. And, outbreaks of vaccine-derived cases of poliovirus were reported last year in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea and Somalia.

Pakistan’s representative assured fellow delegates that his government is fully committed to its polio elimination program—despite the recent suspension of a massive campaign to immunize more than 40 million children under 5 following the murders of 2 police officers protecting polio immunization teams, as reported on April 30 by The Guardian.

More than 262,000 frontline health workers have been involved in vaccinating children, the representative said, adding that 19 polio cases have been documented so far this year in Karachi and 2 other sites. 

In order to keep the meeting on schedule, the committee’s moderator cut off the Pakistan representative’s presentation. But after a plea from WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the moderator again yielded the floor to Pakistan.

The country is committing to a comprehensive review of its vaccination program in consultation with external partners “to deliver a final blow before the next slow season,” he said. 

“We pledge our complete commitment of the government of Pakistan to reach the last mile so future generations will no longer have to suffer the disease of polio,” he said. 

Committee members soon moved on to the next topic of discussion: Polio transition. While the timetable of polio’s ultimate eradication remains unknown, preparations that outcome are well underway. A WHO new report details plans for a post-polio world, including how to sustain polio eradication, build on the polio vaccination success by improving vaccination systems and strengthen emergency preparedness. 

 

Ed. Notes: Check out the latest news from #WHA72 here.
 
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