A new phase in the quest to eradicate polio is launched this week with the first meeting of a board that aims to hold individual countries accountable for the eradication of the disease within their borders.
The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) was established at the request of the GPEI and the World Health Assembly, to ensure that the strategic plan of the former is implemented. It is meeting for the first time this week (21–22 December) in Geneva, Switzerland to assess milestones and recommend further action.
"If there are areas of concern they will be addressed within the individual country. [The board is] there to ensure we get to the end of the road," Oliver Rosenbauer, a spokesperson for the GPEI, told SciDev.Net.
International health authorities hope to treat the last case of polio by December 2013, and if no polio is reported in the ensuing three years, the world will be declared polio-free.
Despite the end being in sight, Rosenbauer admitted that there were major setbacks this year with 13 countries re-importing the virus, eight of them in Central and West Africa.
An outbreak of the virus — which attacks the nervous system, causing paralysis or death — killed 179 people in Angola, Chad, Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo. By 7 December, 476 cases in the region were reported and global health authorities have stepped in to help with immunisation.
"The severity [of the outbreak in central Africa] ... was concerning," Rosenbauer said.
But he insisted that the setbacks would not stand in the way of the final goal. "The reinfection of central Africa did not come from Nigeria, which is the only endemic country in the region. This is important because it means the fight to stop polio in an area that was once the source of infection is working".
Carol Pandak, manager of Rotary International's PolioPlus eradication programme, said that the outbreak was likely because young men had never been vaccinated because of the war in the region 15–20 years ago. Rotary has released US$500,000 to assist with immunisation in the region.
But a funding shortfall of US$810 million is also standing in the way of eradication.
Rosenbauer said that funding from the G8 countries is "dwindling". "It used to be 50 per cent of the annual budget but in recent years this has fallen to 30 per cent.
The GPEI comprises the WHO, the UN Children's Fund, Rotary International and core donor countries — mostly the G8 nations.
See below for a Rotary International video on polio eradication: