October’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) heralded important progress in the fight against polio, for a number of reasons: one of which has managed to fly below the radar.
The morning after The End of Polio Concert, at a Special Press Conference called to discuss polio eradication, five world leaders together with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, pledged an additional $118 million to global polio eradication efforts: providing crucial funding which will help the Global Polio Eradication Initiative purchase much needed vaccines; identify, respond to, and mitigate new outbreaks of this debilitating disease.
But this press conference also featured a second, equally important, non-monetary commitment, when the leaders of Nigeria and Pakistan – two of the remaining four endemic countries – affirmed their commitment to addressing the spread of polio in their communities.
President Jonathan of Nigeria promised the world “that in the next two years, we will eradicate polio”, and Prime Minister Gilani of Pakistan pledged that his Government would utilise all possible resources regarding polio eradication – commitments that will be absolutely critical to the success of eradication efforts – and to progress in the broader fight to stop preventable disease and tackle extreme poverty.
Although less likely to make the headlines, strong political buy-in and leadership is just as crucial as funding when it comes to the achievement of eradication targets. This highlighted in one of the most significant polio success stories of recent times: India.
India is considered a ‘perfect storm’ when it comes to the spread of polio: birth rates are high, populations are dense, and sanitation is terrible. These conditions make it ripe for polio to spread. But despite these challenges, by getting local officials involved in vaccination efforts, India has made such incredible progress tackling the disease that not a single case of polio has been reported in the country since January this year – offering the very real possibility that India will be considered polio free within the next few years.
Strong national and local leadership is also referenced as one of the key factors that has helped Nigeria achieve its remarkable reduction of polio by 95% since 2009.
While they don’t attract the fanfare of a multi-million dollar commitment, October’s CHOGM commitments will be key to advancing the fight against polio. In fact, we’re already seeing them take effect: since Prime Minister Gilani’s announcement, Government officials who fail to meet performance targets in Pakistan’s eradication program have been threatened with tough action, and chief ministers and other local leaders have been urged to make polio eradication a priority.
This high level leadership is crucial to achieving eradication goals, particularly in Pakistan, which has the highest number of polio cases amongst the four remaining polio endemic countries. And achieving further buy in from local leaders will also be critical. Indeed, according to the World Health Organisation’s analysis, it may be a game changer, with findings suggesting low levels of viral persistence correlate with high levels of local leadership.
As Former British PM Tony Blair recently pointed out in the Washington Post, effective development “requires action on all sides.”
That’s why here at the Global Poverty Project we will celebrate October’s important political commitment, and continue to campaign for both financial and political action. We’ll also continue to campaign for systemic change on trade and governance rules – to ensure that governments are held to account for their promises and commitments to their citizens.