By Erica Oakley with Humanitas Global Development
We have all seen the headlines and publicity received by the Occupy Movement, 'we are the 99 percent.' But let me change your focus to another 99 percent. A 99 percent that deserves the spotlight: the fight against polio.
Polio has seen an annual drop in cases of approximately 99 percent since 1988. Meaning, that we are only 1 percent away from eradication - just 1 percent!! However, this last percent is the most difficult to conquer. Luckily, this highly infectious and incurable disease has been put back on the radar screens of governments and the international community with a vengeance.
During the World Health Assembly held this week in Geneva, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) launched its Emergency Action Plan. Their goal: to finally eradicate polio by increasing vaccination rates and public awareness in the three remaining polio endemic countries: Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. This initiative is headed by four groups: Rotary International, WHO, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and UNICEF. Their aim: to take the success story of India and apply it to these countries, finally eradicating this disease. India announced in February the passing of one year without a new case of polio; a global health milestone for this South Asian nation. In 1985 India had 150,000 cases of polio - almost half of all cases in the world at that time.
The campaign against polio was first launched by by the World Health Assembly in 1988, at a time when approximately 350,000 children in 125 countries were paralyzed by the disease. Today, there is hope. We have lowered that number to 1,352 cases being reported in 2010; the result of a concerted, global, and hard fought effort.
However, this fight requires more just producing enough vaccinations to have on hand. The areas where the vaccinations are most needed in Pakistan, and particularly Afghanistan, are volatile and plagued by insecurity. All three countries are victim to barriers such as: corruption, poor infrastructure-particularly in rural areas, unstable political systems, and poor oversight and planning of vaccination campaigns.
In addition to these obstacles, the GPEI does not have the funding needed to finally close the door on polio. Because of this monetary shortfall, GPEI has been required to reduce vaccination initivites in 24 of the most at-risk countries. We are so close to eradicating polio but the international community is losing steam at this most critical time? Why would we gamble with such a devastating, incurable, and highly infectious diseases?
As the World Health Assembly week comes to an end, let us hope that this disease is given the serious attention that it deserves. That donor countries will recognize the importance of its eradication. Unlike many other diseases on the agenda, this one has a very real and very tangible ending. Let us make polio a thing of the past. Let us turn 99 percent into 100 percent. As long as one child is left un-vaccinated, the risk of polio will threaten the lives of future generations.