Polio eradication is a top priority of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. As a major supporter of the GPEI, we contribute technical and financial resources to our GPEI partners to accelerate efforts to eradicate polio. Many of these strategies are proven, such as targeted vaccination campaigns, community mobilization, and stronger routine immunization efforts. We are also working with partners on innovative ways to enhance polio surveillance and outbreak response, accelerate the development and use of safer and more effective polio vaccines, and galvanize financial and political support for polio eradication efforts from both donor and polio-affected countries.
The foundation has a unique ability to contribute to polio eradication by taking big risks and by making nontraditional investments that can lead to valuable program improvements. Examples include our funding for Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping to replace hand-drawn maps for campaign planning, GPS tracking to monitor the movement of vaccination campaign teams, and investments in polio vaccine research.
To accelerate the effort to stop transmission in Pakistan, Foundation have been implementing national emergency plans that are overseen by their respective heads of state and are helping to increase accountability and quality of polio vaccination campaigns from the national to the local level.
These improvements have helped Pakistan reduce the number of polio cases from 198 in 2011 to 56 in 2012; Afghanistan saw a decrease from 80 to 35 during the same period. Cases in Nigeria increased from 62 in 2011 to 119 in 2012, but renewed efforts to improve campaign quality are showing some positive results.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have departed various grants as part of its ongoing support to Pakistan’s polio eradication program and to assist the Sindh government’s response to this year’s floods. The grants fund initiatives aiming to provide assistance to polio survivors as well as address the urgent needs of families affected by the floods in parts of Sindh province.
Sindh province experienced a significant polio outbreak following the floods and currently accounts for nearly 20% of cases reported in the country. So far this year Pakistan has reported 161 cases of polio, more than any other country in the world.
Pakistan announced important steps last week to implement its emergency plan more effectively. If implemented well, rapid progress can be made in stopping the virus, said Michael Galway, a Senior Program Officer for the foundation closely working with the Pakistan program. We hope our additional support demonstrates our ongoing commitment to Pakistan as it deals with multiple challenges in managing the intense transmission of polio while simultaneously responding to acute situations such as this year’s flood in Sindh.
The foundation has allocated more than 198 million rupees in grants for additional support to Pakistan in 2011. This includes a grant to WHO to support the physical rehabilitation of more than 200 children paralyzed by polio; a grant to the Government of Sindh to directly support more than 4,400 families in Umerkot and one other district affected by this year’s floods and a grant to Save the Children to support relief operations. Umerkot is one of 17 districts/towns in Sindh reporting polio this year.
Lately, the Gates Foundation and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) announced a strategic partnership to bolster Pakistan’s fight against polio. Through an innovative financing mechanism, JICA extended a loan of 5.63 billion rupees to the Government of Pakistan, which the Gates Foundation will repay if Pakistan meets polio eradication targets by 2013. Today’s grants will augment support to WHO, UNICEF and the World Bank for vaccine procurement, immunization campaigns and communication efforts for polio.
Progress against polio in Pakistan is critical to achieve global eradication because polio anywhere means there is a risk of polio everywhere. A recent outbreak in China proved to be genetically linked to earlier transmission in Sindh while virus circulation in Afghanistan has been linked to transmission of wild poliovirus in Sindh, Balochistan and KP/FATA.
The government plans to increase accountability for the polio program at the Union Council level as well as efforts to ensure that vaccinators hired to deliver polio vaccines at the household level are of the appropriate age and gender, better trained and supervised, and paid on time and directly.
The foundation will continue to work with the Government of Pakistan and other partners, including WHO, UNICEF and Rotary International to ensure that all children, in Pakistan and around the world, are protected from polio.