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The Future Of The Polio Eradication Campaign

January 11th, 2013

The week of December 17 was a grim one for the polio eradication effort in Pakistan. Seven Pakistani women health workers and two Pakistani men, all working to ensure the success of the polio campaign, were killed, presumably by members of the Pakistani Taliban. This is a tragedy, for the families of those killed, for the children who will go unvaccinated after the government’s suspension of the vaccine campaign, and for the effort to eradicate polio worldwide. Pakistan is one of only three countries remaining with endemic wild polio virus (the others are Afghanistan and Nigeria). It also had turned a corner in its efforts, with only 56 confirmed cases of polio caused by the wild virus this year, down from the 175 confirmed cases at this time last year.

One observer said, “In the same way that the northern-Nigeria boycott was a game changer, I think this is.” She was referring to the 2003-2004 boycott of polio immunization in parts of Northern Nigeria that led to the spread of polio to previously polio-free countries. Clearly, the suspension of the polio vaccination campaign in Pakistan following the killings is a setback. The real question is: Where does the global eradication program go from here?

In its November 2012 report, the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) suggests that, in addition to planning for the final push (the so-called endgame), the GPEI also must engage in contingency planning. They suggest two scenarios that require such thinking:

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