The WHO target for the global eradication of polio may continue to be missed, with the media, the international community, planners and medics underestimating the complex dynamics of the disease.
Thomas Abraham, director of the Public Health Media Project at the University of Hong Kong , told a session on ‘Underground Epidemics’ that the paralysing disease is continuing to evade deadlines set by the WHO to consign the disease to history, partly because of the failure to see polio as an epidemic requiring more serious and urgent action.
Abraham said that while the WHO is concentrating its efforts on vaccination in the endemic countries of Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan, the disease is busy spreading to West and Central Africa from Nigeria, seriously eroding gains.
And a serious funding problem has arisen, he said, with donors and countries committing only 60 per cent of the money needed to fight the problem. Currently a gap of US$665 million exists, jeapordising the Global Polio Eradication Initiative’s final push to eradicate the disease by 2012.
“This gap in finances is a big source [of] worry,” Abraham told the session. “If the money is not found quickly, efforts to tackle polio will continue to be delayed, and fatigue may set in – with governments and donors going for other diseases that may become a priority tomorrow.”
Maina Waruru, freelance science journalist and SciDev.Net contributor