110th Global Health Histories seminar: Polio, immunization and universal health coverage

Thirty years ago, in 1988, the World Health Assembly passed a resolution to eradicate poliomyelitis (polio) globally by 2000. The resolution described this as “an appropriate gift … from the twentieth to the twenty-first century”.

Although cases of wild poliovirus have decreased by over 99% since 1988, eradication remains incomplete. Polio mainly affects children under 5, and as long as even a single child remains infected, children in all countries are at risk of contracting polio.

On Tuesday, 25 September 2018, in a seminar organized by the WHO Collaborating Centre for Global Health Histories based at the University of York (United Kingdom), 2 international experts explored the social, political and epidemiological factors that have prevented complete polio eradication.

Dr Thomas Abraham, former Director of the Public Health Media Programme in the Journalism and Media Studies Centre at the University of Hong Kong, discussed the need for strengthened health systems to catalyse complete polio eradication. He also pointed out barriers to communicating this need to governments and donors.

Dr David Heymann, Professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (United Kingdom), Head of the Centre on Global Health Security at Chatham House and former WHO Assistant Director-General, compared different country contexts, such as those of India and Nigeria. He highlighted different political, social and epidemiological factors in these countries that have prevented complete polio eradication.