When Americans go to bed this evening they probably wont be thinking about polio.
Listening to the debates about The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act constantly reminds me of how lucky we are as a country to not have to worry about diseases like smallpox, rubella, and polio. Polio has been eradicated in the United States since 1979, in the United Kingdom and Japan since 1980, and in Europe since 1990. Many have proclaimed the fight against polio to be over but this is a false belief.
The battle against polio rages on in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative, founded in 1988, is the largest public-private health campaign the world has ever seen. The Initiative is a collaboration between Rotary International, UNICEF, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the governments of countries in all parts of the world. Thanks to the tremendous work of the GPEI the number of new polio cases has decreased from 350,000 in 1980 to just 650 in 2011. The international community is on the brink of something incredible- the full eradication of polio.
The United States government and the American private sector have long been leaders in the fight against polio. The US contributes funding to the GPEI through the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The CDC takes primary responsibility for technical expertise and laboratory support for polio eradication. The American contribution to GPEI is critical for the continued development of research that will make eradication measures easier.
Last month Senator Durbin and Senator Kirk introduced S.Res.473 which supports the contributions of Rotary International to polio eradication, encourages the international community to remain committed to the elimination of polio, and supports continued commitment and funding by the United States Government to the “global effort to rid the world of polio.” The resolution passed unanimously. In a recent press release praised the work of Rotary International. “Their work is literally saving lives. We are closer than ever to ending the scourge of polio.”
Our leaders have publically expressed emphatic support for polio eradication but the GPEI currently faces a funding gap of nearly $1 billion. Merely continuing American support for polio eradication will not be enough to eradicate the disease. The United States committed around $133 million annually in the fiscal years to 2012. In 2012, due to the situation of the economy, the United States cut funding by around $43 million.
As Pakistan increases her commitment to the GPEI it is critical that the United States reciprocates. The power is in our hands to eradicate the second disease in human history.