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AdvocacyFebruary 19, 2016

Ending Polio and Protecting Progress: The Ministerial Conference on Immunization in Africa

What’s At Stake

Polio still exists and threatens children with paralysis and even death. Yet enormous progress has been made toward ridding the world of this disease forever. Last year, the global community celebrated the fact that Africa went a year without seeing one case of wild poliovirus on the entire continent, and the disease remains endemic—meaning consistently present—in just two countries: Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the face of these milestones, it is crucial that the global health community focuses on two things: eradicating polio once and for all, and protecting the progress that has been achieved through the fight against polio.

Eradicating polio would mean that the disease would be stopped for good, ensuring that no child could contract polio and suffer the devastating effects of the disease. In an interconnected world where people and diseases are increasingly mobile, permanently stopping the disease will be critical to protecting the health of children. If the virus continues to exist anywhere, children everywhere remain at risk. Fortunately, effective vaccines are available to prevent polio, but we still need funding from governments and individuals for polio as well as routine immunization programs in order to ensure that these vaccines reach every child.

Protecting the gains that have been made in the fight against polio is important not only for ending this disease, but also for ensuring that key contributions made to global health through this fight are not lost. For example, robust polio surveillance networks are used to find, report, and fight other diseases such as measles and neonatal tetanus. In 2014, the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in Nigeria, a health institution designed to respond to polio outbreaks, served as a model which was successfully replicated to effectively respond to the Ebola epidemic. It is essential that such assets remain strong so that countries can continue to fight polio and other diseases.

What We Can Do

The most important thing that we can do to end polio and protect the incredible progress made to date is talk to our representatives. We have to tell our legislators that continuing to fund the programs that fight polio is vital to global health.

We can also seek out and take advantage of opportunities to speak out on this issue. For example, the Ministerial Conference on Immunization in Africa (#MCIA16) is taking place on February 24 and 25 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. At this conference, government officials throughout Africa will come together to discuss how to make sure that children across Africa get the vaccines that they need to live healthy lives. During the conference, leaders will discuss how to protect the public health gains made through polio programs. We can use this opportunity to educate ourselves, our legislators, and others on immunizations and how crucial they are for child health worldwide. To receive the latest news and updates on the conference, follow @AfricaVaxConf on Twitter.

By using our voices to communicate the importance of funding immunization programs to those around us, especially our legislators, we can end polio, protect the progress that we’ve made, and improve the health of children everywhere.

Anne Marie Giangiulio