I have the honor to speak on behalf of the 53 Member States of the European Region of WHO.
Last year saw important advances towards polio eradication, especially in Africa (6 months without any case in Nigeria) and the Middle East, yet important challenges persist. We got close but still missed the target of ending all wild poliovirus transmission by the end of 2014. Armed conflicts remain a major barrier in the way of polio eradication and can lead to reintroduction of poliovirus to non-endemic territories with subsequent risk of further spread. Being aware of the special challenges associated with a complex political and security environment, we are particularly concerned about the increase in the number of cases in Pakistan. We would like to encourage the authorities of Pakistan to continue to make every effort to stop this outbreak.
The overall operational context in 2014 was made increasingly difficult by the newest global health threat, the Ebola outbreak. While the polio program has strengthened countries’ ability to fight other deadly viral diseases, we see the risk of adverse effects of the Ebola crisis on polio eradication in Africa, in view of the seriously weakened health systems in the most affected countries as well as through a potential redirection of attention and resources.
We need to build on the gains achieved and complete the job, especially in the endemic countries. Any additional delays sap morale and put continued funding at risk. Strengthening surveillance systems, maintaining high immunization levels, providing preparedness to possible importation of poliovirus and fully implementing the temporary recommendations issued by the Director General are instrumental in defeating polio.
In this context, we are happy to inform the EB that the Regional Certification Commission concluded last week that Israel has successfully interrupted transmission of polio.
According to the latest report before us, we enter the crucial stage of the phased removal of oral polio vaccines. We therefore commend the ongoing efforts and rapid progress by GAVI, GPEI and countries to introduce IPV in routine vaccination systems as part of the polio endgame strategy.
Five readiness criteria have to be met by the end of 2015 to allow for the coordinated withdrawal of the OPV type 2 in April 2016. We feel encouraged by the SAGE evaluation of last October that preparations were on track to reach this goal, provided that Member States show continued political commitment.
Therefore, the EURO Member States would like to express their support for the adoption of the draft decision included in the Secretariat’s report and call on all stakeholders to keep up their efforts in preparing for the complete phasing out of oral polio vaccines, especially by stopping current vaccine-derived outbreaks as soon as possible.
This year will also see the finalization of the global legacy framework. We look forward to engaging in a constructive debate on the best means for transitioning the polio eradication infrastructure to other health priorities, under nationally-led processes.
To conclude, we would like to commend the efforts of frontline polio workers for their lifesaving work even in the face of enormous personal risks. We must stand united and face the challenges with unabated dedication to finally see this disease eradicated.