On World Polio Day, Jim Calverley looks at recent developments in the fight against polio and warns against complacency.

The 3 recent cases of polio in the north eastern state of Borno, Nigeria serve as a timely reminder. A reminder that, not only is the polio eradication programme working in some of the most challenging, conflict-affected areas on earth, but that every country must continue to remain vigilant against polio. To do otherwise risks jeopardising the huge progress that has been made since the formation of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) in 1985. That progress has seen the number of children infected with polio drop from 350,000 cases in 1985 to 23 cases to date in 2016.

It is tempting to interpret the number of cases this year as being representative of a job done, a task completed. But to do so risks complacency. As long as one single child is infected, all children remain at risk. The vast majority of infected children do not exhibit any symptoms of the disease which makes polio difficult to monitor given that children without symptoms can still transmit the disease and thereby infect others.

Photo credit: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation 

There is no cure for polio, but there is a safe and effective vaccine. The strategy to eradicate polio is to reach every last child with polio vaccine in the polio-endemic countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria while protecting the progress made in every other part of the world. To pursue anything other than eradication risks undoing all of the progress that has been made to date. The recent cases in Nigeria demonstrate this.  The UK government has a critical role in making sure that the eradication of polio remains a global health priority for both donor and implementing countries.

On 27 September 2015 at the United Nations General Assembly, David Cameron spoke to the UK government’s commitment to ‘leave no one behind’. In reaching children in the most marginalised communities, the eradication of polio could prove to be one of the early milestones of the new Global Goals era.

It has been calculated that the amount saved due to the polio eradication programme will come to $40-50 billion: benefits that will be seen primarily in low-income countries. Investments in polio eradication are already providing benefits to other disease and health areas. The surveillance network built by polio eradication efforts are helping fight diseases like measles and Ebola, as well as strengthening routine immunisation and delivering other health services such as malaria prevention tools, and vitamin A supplements.

The UK has been a long-term supporter of the global effort to eradicate polio since the launch of the GPEI. It is something that the UK should be proud of. RESULTS UK calls on the UK government to continue that long-term strategy by making a bold financial commitment and by leveraging its position on the world stage to encourage other countries to follow the UK’s lead. No child should contract polio, or indeed any other disease, because they happen to live in a country which does not have equitable access to vaccines.