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Push to eradicate polio could pave the way for better health coverage

This week in Abu Dhabi, the global community is meeting to hold a Vaccines Summit. This has been jointly convened by Bill Gates and (I had to paste this) His Highness General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative

The summit is billed as looking at all vaccines, but clearly has a strong focus on polio eradication.

The organisers are hoping for major pledges to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, which believes it is close to reaching the goal of no more cases of polio. Today, the UK government committed £300m over 6 years towards this goal. If polio is eradicated through vaccination, it will be a remarkable achievement, on a par with the eradication of smallpox.

If you can get rid of diseases completely, then more money is available for other health problems and there is no need for any more polio vaccination.

Concerns about impact

There are rightly concerns expressed about the impact that the push for polio eradication has on the ordinary everyday vaccination of children. Some have identified that, as happened with the push for HIV treatments, extra donor money draws staff and resources away from everyday services. If donors come in and offer better salaries and a well-resourced operation, of course many health staff will choose to move.

The push to eradicate polio requires intense attention – a lesson we might learn if new zero goals are adopted for the future after the Millennium Development Goals.

Efforts must be integrated

Save the Children is pleased that the summit is also focusing on routine immunisation and making clear that polio efforts need to be well-integrated with routine immunisation. If you can reach every child in an area with a polio vaccine, then you can also reach them with vaccines against hepatitis, pneumonia, diphtheria and the other major killers of children.

Polio could be the model to show us how the poorest and most marginalised children can be reached with essential health services, something they are denied in too many countries.

Sustainable improvements

The goal of polio eradication offers a great opportunity to prove that children’s health can be improved in a way which has sustainable – not just short-term – impact.

So we welcome a commitment to polio eradication within integrated, universal health services.

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