By Julian Fantino, Canadian Minister of International Cooperation
and Dominic Mishio, Canadian country director The Global Poverty Project
Troy Media – Canada’s role in fighting polio, once a dreaded disease in our own communities, hearkens back to the earliest days of the struggle to find a cure. Canadian scientists helped create the Salk vaccine in the 1950s. We were the first country to implement a successful polio vaccine program nationwide, becoming a model for public health programs aiming to protect children from this disease. Canada was the first country to support the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in 1988. And we have been a leader ever since.
With the help of many partners, this global effort has eliminated 99 per cent of polio cases. But, as they say, the last mile is always the hardest, and now is not the time to rest on our laurels. In a globalised world, with the frequent movement of people, no communicable disease can be truly isolated or contained. As long as polio remains active, it remains a threat to us all. Slowing our efforts at this critical window of opportunity means the difference between seeing it gradually spread back into countries where it has been eliminated or finally meting out a long overdue coup de grâce to completely wipe polio off the planet forever.
In the process of ridding the world of this crippling disease, we would simultaneously create the architecture for routine immunization to deliver other vaccines for some of the hardest to reach children in the world. Immunization saves the lives of millions of children every year, and remains one of the most cost-effective health investments.
At the recent Global Vaccine Summit, held in Abu Dhabi, Canada announced a historic $250 million contribution to polio eradication in support of the Endgame Plan. This comprehensive six-year plan maps out how we can reach a polio-free world by 2018. This new commitment will help the Global Polio Eradication Initiative implement strategies and programs to eradicate polio and strengthen health systems, especially in the three countries where polio is a persistent problem: Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan. It will also support efforts to ensure the supply of quality immunizations and the use of innovative technologies for immunization programs, including infrastructure for disease surveillance and response systems.
With the end of this terrible disease in sight, we applaud all those who have helped the world come this far, including Canadian Rotarians and organizations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which are steadfastly committed to seeing all children vaccinated against the disease. Following their outstanding decades-long effort which has to date raised over a billion dollars, Rotarians have again engaged Canadians and raised significant funds to fight polio in the past several months. The Government of Canada and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will match $2.27 million raised by 25,000 Canadian Rotarians, for a total contribution of $6.8 million.
Furthermore, the End of Polio campaign, an initiative of the Global Poverty Project, has engaged more than 1200 Canadians across the country, together with Diaspora, community leaders, and Parliamentarians, voicing support for Canada’s commitment to polio eradication.
But dollars alone are not enough to carry us across the finish line. It will require community-wide support to enable the success of vaccination efforts. While success is on the horizon, access to those who most need vaccination remains a major challenge. There are many polio immunization workers who still face precarious situations and the threat of violence for their work. Canada has called on religious, government, and community leaders at home and around the world, to further buttress efforts to eradicate the disease by promoting science based information and safe access for immunization workers.
If we fail to eradicate polio we run the risk of polio returning, infecting hundreds of thousands of children. We are at a crucial, opportune moment in history. By investing and taking action, we will demonstrate what we can collectively achieve when we understand what is truly at stake. We must move to safeguard the health of our children and future generations. Canada together with the End of Polio campaign will remain committed to achieving a polio-free world.
*The Honourable Julian Fantino is the Minister of International Cooperation. Dominic Mishio is the Canadian country director of the Global Poverty Project, organizers of The End of Polio campaign.