United States leads nations in support for ending polio
USAID’s Ellyn Ogden holds a premature baby in Afghanistan. Photo coutesy of USAID
For more than 20 years, the United States has been the leading public-sector supporter of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, contributing more than $1.6 billion -- about a quarter of all funding.
A major component of the country’s support is the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC), including more than $101 million in funding for the agency in 2009. Along with the World Health Organization, Rotary International, and UNICEF, the CDC is one of the spearheading partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, providing support such as
- More than 350 epidemiologists, virologists, and technical officers to assist WHO and polio-endemic countries
- Funds to help UNICEF pay for oral polio vaccine and the operational costs of National Immunization Days (NIDs)
- Assistance to WHO with surveillance, technical staff, and NID operational costs
- Use of its Atlanta, Georgia, laboratories as a global reference and training center and strong support for the worldwide network of 145 polio laboratories
The highly developed lab network, established as part of the end-polio initiative, is also being used to track measles, rubella, yellow fever, meningitis, and other deadly infectious diseases. Most recently, polio health workers have been trained to recognize symptoms of avian influenza to support surveillance and potential outbreak response activities to this public health threat.
Another key element of U.S. support for polio eradication is USAID. On 18 March, Past RI President James Lacy encouraged continued funding for USAID’s end-polio efforts in a written testimony on behalf of RI before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs.
“Prospects for polio eradication are bright, but significant challenges remain,” stated Lacy, who chairs RI’s Polio Eradication Advocacy Task Force for the United States. He pointed to operational challenges in reaching every child in the four polio-endemic countries of Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan. “In addition, the need to deal with outbreak response activities in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, and Sudan are tragic and costly reminders that no child is safe until polio has been eradicated everywhere.”
Lacy cited several ways in which USAID, with an annual $32 million budget for polio eradication, is playing an effective role, including
- Supporting rapid responses to polio outbreaks
- Working to improve immunization coverage in Nigeria’s highest-risk areas
- Funding surveillance and laboratories in Afghanistan, India, Indonesia, and Pakistan
- Supporting immunization at border crossings between Afghanistan and Pakistan
- Helping to fund the training of almost 250,000 community-based mobilizers in Angola, Ethiopia, India, and Nepal
Ellyn Ogden, worldwide polio eradication coordinator for USAID, reflects the agency’s commitment to ending the disease. She has negotiated cease-fires with armed groups in Afghanistan, Angola, Congo, and other countries so millions of children can be immunized. In January, she received the USAID Award for Heroism.
“Polio doesn’t wait for peace,” she says. “You have to vaccinate even in conflict. Reaching children in times of conflict is a challenge.”
Unflagging public- and private-sector support is critical to ending polio once and for all, say the partners of the global effort.
“Rotary International’s commitment will reach US$1.2 billion by the time the world is certified polio-free -- a financial commitment that is second only to that of the U.S. government,” Lacy said in his testimony. “The goal of a polio-free world is within our grasp because polio eradication strategies work even in the most challenging environments and circumstances.”
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