Community, government engagement critical to ensure routine immunisation: Gavi CEO

GENEVA, On World Polio Day, the CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, Dr. Seth Berkley highlighted the efforts of governments, international bodies, civil society, and the hundreds of thousands of polio workers who have worked together to eradicate polio.

In an interview with the Emirates News Agency, WAM, Dr. Berkley noted the UAE’s partnership efforts to eradicate polio, adding that the country was the first Gavi donor from the Middle East and North Africa Region.

“In 2011,” he added, “His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, contributed US$ 33 million to support Gavi in supplying five-in-one pentavalent vaccine and introducing the pneumococcal vaccine in Afghanistan.” He went on to highlight various other contributions made in 2013 ($120 million) and 2017 ($30 million) towards polio campaigns in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“The UAE has also contributed US$5 million to Gavi’s Innovation for Uptake, Scale and Equity in Immunisation, INFUSE, programme in 2017,” Berkley added.

The INFUSE programme incubates tried and tested innovations that have the potential to improve vaccine delivery. “This is particularly relevant when it comes to addressing the delivery challenges in reaching the last mile in areas where wild poliovirus remains endemic,” he noted.

When asked to explain what the most effective ways to prevent the spread of polio, Berkley said, “There is no cure for polio; it can only be prevented by immunisation.”

The Gavi CEO explained, “Now that most countries have eradicated polio, the key to preventing re-emergence of the virus (wild or vaccine-derived) is to continue to increase population immunity to polio through routine immunisation coverage with both oral polio vaccine, OPV, and inactivated poliovirus vaccine, IPV.”

Commenting why it is essential to eradicate polio, Dr. Berkley said, “Polio is highly contagious, and without a concerted push towards global eradication, we could very easily backslide.”

He went on to note that studies have shown that current rates of routine immunisation coverage are not high enough to adopt a control strategy that allows for a threshold of polio cases a year.

“Within a decade, a resurgence of the disease would probably paralyse more than 200,000 children a year,” he warned, noting that it will not only create a detrimental health crisis but also create economic burdens.

“When we take into account treatment and operational costs as well as losses in productivity, eradication is simply the most cost-effective approach as compared to the alternatives,” he added.

Dr. Berkley noted that to achieve high rates of coverage via routine immunisation requires community engagement to raise awareness and generate demand. “This means having the capacity to study and understand the economic, social and cultural barriers that prevent certain populations from accessing vaccines.”

“Whether the barrier is a practical lack of access to or knowledge of vaccine delivery services, gender-related issues or vaccine hesitancy, utilising trusted sources and channels to disseminate high-quality information is an important part of the solution,” he affirmed.

According to the World Health Organisation, WHO, economic modelling has found that the eradication of polio would save at least US$40�50 billion by 2035, mostly in low-income countries.

Source: Emirates News Agency