Original efforts for Polio eradication have been unsuccessful. Gavi reports that it was “supposed to be eradicated 22 years ago”, yet in 2022 we continue to face obstacles in the way of this goal. In October this year, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) will be fundraising at the World Health Summit, in the hopes of raising $4.8 billion. This would go towards vaccination and global surveillance programmes in 50 countries. However, Gavi suggests that although “high income donor countries” have an opportunity to help Polio meet its match, the “outlook is uncertain”.  

Polio prevails 

The virus is endemic in Pakistan and Afghanistan, with recent cases occurring in Malawi and Mozambique. In addition, recent cases of vaccine-derived polio in the US and UK offer a “stark reminder” of the effects of globalisation on viral threats. These recent occurrences have given strength to calls to maintain focus on polio vaccination, but there is confusion about the implications of “vaccine-derived” and complications caused by the amplification of anti-vaccine movements during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Active campaigns 

It’s no secret that the increase in vaccine awareness during the recent pandemic has facilitated and encouraged a dangerous growth of anti-vaccine movements, easily exploiting vaccine hesitancy. However, this is not a unique problem, and as Professor Peter Hotez identifies, allowing it to take root in countries like the US will have global implications. How can the rest of us be expected to gladly receive vaccination programmes that the so-called world leader can’t deliver for itself?  

Before COVID-19  

It isn’t just a COVID-19 problem, though. Gavi recalls the Taliban’s ban on door-to-door polio vaccination in 2018. This caused 3.3 million children to miss out on their polio vaccines. Although the ban has been lifted it set a precedent of mistrust and confusion that prevails. Furthermore, political instability and conflict are hurdles that health workers are expected to overcome. 

“Populations most in need of humanitarian assistance are often the hardest to reach.”  

Gavi also notes that international enthusiasm “fades over time” as immediate aid is more appealing than a “long-term recovery process”. This is a phenomenon known as donor fatigue and has “devastating consequences”.  

“If appropriate measures are not urgently taken, immunisation recovery programmes and continued aspirations to meet polio eradication will become a more distant target.”  

Pushing forward 

Gavi demands a “call to action” of “synchronised” responses. The efforts to address polio must acknowledge “political and structural challenges” or they will contribute to workforce fatigue and have no real effect on eradication.  

“Complacency and insufficient funding will pose a major challenge to reach 370 million children annually for the next five years and our collective success”.  

To hear more from Gavi at the World Vaccine Congress in Washington 2023 get your tickets now.