Paul Martin, the former prime minister of Canada, has said that the worldwide campaign to eradicate polio is “at a critical juncture”. His remarks were made in a recent Guardian article following the G8 summit, where the topic of global health was low on the agenda. Mr Martin survived polio as a child (as did his father), so he describes the issue as one which is “close to my heart”.
Between 1985 and 2014, G8 countries have given or promised nearly 4.6 billion dollars to the global campaign to eradicate polio and Canada has recently pledged an additional 250 million dollars. However, further funding will be needed to sustain vaccination and support programmes, particularly in those countries where the disease remains endemic – Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria – where the task is being further complicated by insecurity in some regions and the threat to vaccinators.
Mr Martin calls for the ongoing support of the international community to provide “full upfront funding” for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), especially since at any given time, new outbreaks can occur where vaccination levels are low. So for example, the Horn of Africa is seeing a fresh outbreak, resulting in at least 25 reported cases of the disease.
Existing funding has already enabled the GPEI to make a rapid response. Within just five days of the first polio case being confirmed in Somalia, hundreds of health workers were mobilised and began vaccinating thousands of children in the most at-risk region. This response adds to the support already in place for programmes set up by the new government to improve child health services in Somalia.
Paul Martin ends his article by asking world leaders to stick to the promises made at the 2004 G8 summit, when the G8 countries pledged to “take all necessary steps to eradicate polio”. If this goal continues to be prioritised, the former prime minister doesn’t see any reason why polio shouldn’t be wiped out in the near future, something which would be “a truly remarkable legacy”.