October 10th, 2006 12:39 EST
State's Dobriansky Urges Ongoing Commitment to Polio Eradication
Washington -- An international consortium might not have achieved its goal to eradicate polio by 2005, but the task can be completed with “commitment, cooperation and community involvement,” according to U.S. Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky.
Speaking October 10 at the George Washington University in Washington, Dobriansky said that eradication of polio is “a key foreign policy objective and one of [the Bush administration’s] highest international public health priorities.”
The occurrence of polio has declined 99 percent since the 1980s launch of a major effort to increase immunizations among children worldwide to protect them from the crippling disease.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) aspired to wipe out the disease by 2005, but the virus continues to occur naturally in four nations -- Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan.
Ten other nations in which polio once was eradicated have reported cases in 2006, a situation attributed to poor implementation of immunization programs, which allows the virus to travel from endemic countries to places where it was thought to have been eradicated.
To continue the battle against the disease, diplomacy must reinforce public health action, Dobriansky said, calling for a renewed and strengthened commitment from the international community.
“We must fight what may be fatigue, waning enthusiasm and decreased financial support among some donors,” Dobriansky said. The United States has contributed 28 percent of the $5 billion so far allocated to GPEI, including $132 million in 2006 alone.
Funding shortfalls stymie the progress of GPEI’s work, however, and Dobriansky said the Bush administration would work with international partners to attempt to raise further resources for the cause.
Massive national immunization days -- when tens of millions of children receive doses to protect them from disease -- are the campaigns that will lead to polio eradication, but they require great community involvement, she said.
“Local political and religious figures have a crucial role to play in disseminating helpful information, dispelling myths, and instilling confidence regarding immunization,” Dobriansky said.
The campaign against polio has been long and progressively more difficult, she added, but it cannot be abandoned. “The more difficult route, the moral one, the strategically important one, is to push on, to persevere, to see the fight through to its very end,” Dobriansky said.
As of October 4, GPEI reported 1,353 cases of polio so far in 2006, compared to about 1,273 in the same period of 2005. Nigeria is the most seriously stricken nation in 2006, with almost 850 cases.
The primary partners in GPEI are Rotary International, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and UNICEF.
For more information on the polio eradication effort, see polio fact sheet on the State Department’s Web site. Additional information on GPEI is available on the program’s Web site.
For ongoing coverage of international efforts to eradicate polio, see Global Health.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)