"As long as it exists anywhere in the world, polio threatens children everywhere," said Professor Helen Rees, executive director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, who signed the declaration and chairs SAGE. "By pursuing in parallel all of the steps needed to reach eradication, including the introduction of inactivated vaccines, countries have a complete path to eliminate polio's threat." In November 2012, SAGE recommended the introduction of at least one dose of inactivated polio vaccine into all routine immunization programs prior to the phase-out of oral polio vaccines.
In light of recent attacks on health workers in some endemic countries, the declaration stresses the need to protect polio vaccination teams as they do their work. The GPEI plan includes a series of risk-mitigation strategies for insecure areas, including deepening engagement with community and religious leaders.
The scientists and experts signing the declaration hail from 80 countries and include Nobel laureates, vaccine and infectious disease experts, public health school deans, pediatricians and other health authorities. More than 40 leading universities and schools of public health and medicine are promoting the declaration on their websites, including Aga Khan University, the Harvard School of Public Health, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Al Azhar University (Egypt), University of Cape Town, Redeemer's University (Nigeria) and Christian Medical College Vellore (India).
The declaration notes that the world has a unique window of opportunity to eradicate polio. Only 223 new cases due to wild poliovirus were recorded in 2012, an historic low and a more than 99 percent decrease from the estimated 350,000 cases in 1988. Just 16 new cases have been reported so far in 2013 (as of 9 April). India, long-regarded as the most difficult place to eliminate polio, has not recorded a case in more than two years.
"Eradicating polio is no longer a question of technical or scientific feasibility. Rather, getting the most effective vaccines to children at risk requires stronger political and societal commitment," said Dr. David Heymann, head and senior fellow at the Chatham House Centre on Global Health Security and a signatory of the declaration. "Eliminating the last one percent of polio cases is an immense challenge, as is the eradication endgame after that. But by working together we can make history and leave the legacy of a polio-free world for future generations."
Source: Global Health Strategies