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Global health leaders see a clear path to polio eradication

The Rotary and WHO World Polio Day 2022 and Beyond event in Geneva, Switzerland, brought together health experts to share updates and exchange ideas

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World health leaders expressed their confidence in eradicating polio worldwide and commended frontline workers working to achieve this goal during an event at the headquarters of the World Health Organization. Health (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland, October 21-22.

Sponsored by Rotary International and WHO, World Polio Day 2022 and Beyond updated participants and viewers on the status of polio eradication. He also discussed possible community solutions that go beyond vaccinations to improve the health of mothers and children.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of WHO, speaking at the opening session, said polio eradication is within reach. He cited the fact that the work of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (IMEP) reduced cases by 99.9%, from 350,000 in 1988 to just six cases last year. However, he acknowledged that the global effort has lost ground this year, with 20 cases in Pakistan and two in Afghanistan. These are the only two countries where wild poliovirus transmission has never been stopped. But the diagnosis of a polio case in the US and the detection of poliovirus in sewage in the UK “show that polio will remain a global threat until it is eradicated everywhere”. Polio cases were also diagnosed in Malawi and Mozambique last year and this year.

“We still face many challenges, including misinformation, hard-to-reach populations and community fatigue,” Dr. Tedros said.

Polio immunization programs for children have faced historic disruptions, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has added to the challenges. “Without concerted action, we could lose the gains we have made,” added Dr Tedros.

The GPEI Polio Eradication Strategy for 2022-26 is designed to address these challenges using both proven solutions and innovative new tools. At the World Health Summit in Berlin, Germany, in early October, donors, including Rotary, pledged $2.6 billion to fund the strategy. These funds will support polio vaccinations in countries where polio is endemic and in those that have experienced recent outbreaks. It will also fund the adoption of the new oral polio vaccine type 2 (nOPV2), which is a genetically modified version of a current vaccine and is less likely to cause outbreaks of circulating vaccine-derived poliomyelitis, also known as poliomyelitis variant name.

The funds will also support GPEI’s commitment to empowering women at all levels of health care. “Gender equality is key to achieving eradication, as in many of the worst-affected communities, only women are allowed access to homes and [to] children other than their own,” Dr. Tedros noted.

He assured the audience that polio eradication will remain a top priority for WHO. “With the support of Rotary, I envision a future where the only thing children learn about polio is from history books,” said Dr Tedros.

Other global health experts who spoke at the event included Aidan O’Leary, Director of Polio Eradication at WHO; Steven Lauwerier, Director of Polio Eradication at UNICEF; and Ambassador Hans-Peter Jungel, Deputy Permanent Representative for Germany.

“Not only is polio eradication feasible, it’s within reach,” O’Leary told attendees.

Immunizing every child against polio must remain the priority, Lauwerier said. “A vaccine alone, if it remains in the vial, does not change anything,” he stressed.

During a Q&A with RI President Jennifer Jones and TIME magazine editor Jeffrey Kluger, Jones said, “We’re making incredible progress and we should be proud of where we’re at. are. »

The second day of the event focused on preventive care and the health of mothers and children. Breakout sessions discussed regional needs and opportunities for collaboration.

Global update highlights importance of vaccinations

Rotary has also published the World Polio Day 2022 Global Update Video, which features other global health experts. They stressed the importance of vaccinations as the only sure protection against poliomyelitis and other vaccine-preventable diseases.

Dr Hamid Jafari, director of polio eradication at WHO, said the diagnosis of polio cases in Malawi and Mozambique, as well as detections of poliovirus variants in New York, London and Israel, demonstrate the continuing threat of poliomyelitis.

“As long as poliovirus survives anywhere, it remains a threat to children and unvaccinated people everywhere,” he said.

Dr John Vertefeuille, head of the polio eradication branch at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), stressed the importance of continued surveillance after polio cases stop .

“On the path to eradication and containment, surveillance will continue to play a vital role in the certification process, ensuring that poliovirus transmission has been interrupted and that the hard-won victory of a polio-free world will be sustained beyond certification,” he said.

Experts who are part of the National Immunization Program in Pakistan also spoke about the GPEI Gender Strategy and the importance of employing frontline health workers to ensure campaigns reach every child with the polio vaccine.

“We found that women were reluctant to get vaccinated by male vaccinators,” says Dr Soofia Yunus, director general of the Federal Directorate of Immunization in Pakistan. “In every strategy we develop and in every activity we carry out, we make sure that women are part of it.”

As O’Leary said on World Polio Day 2022 and beyond, “The way forward is absolutely clear. We have the tools. We have the strategies. We have a ruthless focus.

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