Building Global Health Capacity Through Polio Eradication

Over the last 30 years, experts in disease transmission and surveillance, community mobilizers, vaccinators, and a host of local and national leaders have focused relentlessly on vaccinating all children everywhere against poliovirus. A disease that primarily attacks children younger than 5, the virus can cause life-long paralysis and even death. In 1988, encouraged by progress toward polio elimination in the Americas, the World Health Assembly agreed to eradicate polio worldwide. From more than 350,000 that year, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) has reduced the number of polio cases to 22 in 2017. While still grappling with some difficult challenges, the GPEI continues to edge toward its ultimate goal of global eradication.

Through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. government has been an invaluable contributor to the eradication effort. CDC, along with the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, Rotary International, and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is one of the GPEI’s core international partners, providing resources, leadership, and technical assistance to countries as they develop and implement their eradication strategies. USAID has provided guidance along with funding for both community- and facility-based surveillance, social mobilization, and immunization activities.

While preventing an estimated 16 million polio infections, the GPEI has at the same time developed networks of disease surveillance, laboratories, and vaccine-delivery systems providing needed public health infrastructure in the countries most at risk of disease outbreaks. In addition, it has provided training to thousands of health workers who are improving a range of disease prevention activities in their home countries.

Public health officials at the country, regional, and global levels are now taking stock of the valuable “assets” created by the polio program. They are calculating how polio-funded networks and new staff currently are contributing to public health systems and how to expand and sustain them into the future to help improve health in low-resource countries and advance global health security. This website contributes to that process by exploring public health interventions for which the U.S. government provided significant backing, either financially or through technical support. Each section examines an individual asset, explaining what it is, how it is contributing to polio eradication and to addressing other health issues, and what some of the challenges are to their continuation. Overall, the site will highlight the formidable leadership and support CDC and USAID have offered toward eradication. It also will illustrate how polio assets already are aiding countries in preventing, detecting, and responding to disease outbreaks and what would be needed for them to be sustained into the future.

We hope through our work you will appreciate the value of U.S. contributions and leadership to polio eradication and the potential for assets developed by the program to strengthen global disease outbreak prevention and control. We live on a small planet in a time when people and diseases can travel far and fast. The evolving tools developed through polio eradication can enhance disease detection and response, protecting people everywhere.

This project is made possible through the generous support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.