The fight to eradicate polio symbolizes what global health is all about. To wipe the virus off the face of the earth, we have to reach virtually every single child with the polio vaccine. No matter who they are. No matter where they live.
However, not every child is lucky enough to be born in a country that is able to afford all the lifesaving vaccines. For example, until three years ago, children living in the poorest countries were not immunized against rotavirus and pneumonia, the two leading killers of children under five. This changed when an organization called the GAVI Alliancehelped negotiate lower prices for these vaccines and started working with poor countries to introduce them into their routine immunization systems.
In the battle to eradicate polio, every country in the world is using or has used the oral polio vaccine to get us to the threshold of eradication. But there is another effective polio vaccine – the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) – that will help us pass through that threshold. As part of the comprehensive plan to achieve a polio-free world by 2018, all countries are to introduce IPV by end of 2015 – prior to a phased removal of OPV.
Until today, the world’s poorest countries hadn’t been able to introduce IPV into their routine immunization schedules because the cost of a single dose of the IPV vaccine was approximately 15-20 times more than a single dose of OPV.
GAVI is working together with the Global Polio Eradication Initiative to help these 73 poorest countries purchase and deliver these vaccines to all their children. This new collaboration between organizations created to work on routine immunization and polio eradication is symbolic of the fact that polio eradication will help us get better at global health in general.
Success will mean more than just a world in which no child ever has to suffer from this debilitating disease. The lessons and resources from an effort that reaches almost every child will be applied to other major global health challenges, especially to making sure that all children are protected by all the lifesaving vaccines.
This is a big step toward polio eradication—and a big step toward global health equity.