3 December 2021 | Science conversation
How has the pandemic impacted the fight against Polio? How has the polio infrastructure helped the fight against COVID-19? Why is it important that the world doesn’t take its eyes off polio? Sona Bari explains in Science in 5 this week.
Dr Sona Bari
Vismita Gupta-SmithSona, the Global Polio Eradication Programme has a very effective infrastructure that was put in place to eradicate polio. How has that helped in fighting COVID-19?
Dr Sona BariWell, interestingly, when Rotary International, the global service organization, decided to launch polio eradication, they called it PolioPlus and the plus has always meant that people who work to eradicate polio in the endemic countries and in countries that are at high risk of polio re-infection, they've always done things beyond eradicating polio. They weigh newborns. They give advice on other medical issues. They carry out disease surveillance for other diseases. And when COVID-19 hit, they also started working on disease surveillance, on contact tracing, on educating communities, physical distancing, how to take hygiene measures. Our lab network is testing samples. So, this is all part of the support that Polio Eradication’s unique infrastructure is able to give. And one important thing about this infrastructure is that it has always been built to reach those who are least reached by health services. Communities that live in areas that fall between the cracks. So, if you will, that weakest link where disease can hide and polio is uniquely positioned to help there. Investing in polio eradication is doubly beneficial. We are not only eradicating polio, we're actually helping strengthen health systems where they are at their weakest to the most vulnerable communities. And now the polio eradication workers are helping with the vaccine rollout in many countries.
Vismita Gupta-SmithSona, explain to me why it's important that the world doesn't take its eyes off of polio at this point in the pandemic?
Dr Sona BariIn eradication, when you set out to completely wipe a disease from the Earth, the only number that counts is zero. And this was a promise to all future generations, not just this generation. This is only the second time we will do this after eradicating smallpox. The other reason is COVID-19 has shown us how quickly and dangerously infectious disease can spread around the world. If we don't stop polio now, it will come roaring back out of those two countries, leaving the rest of the world vulnerable. So, let's fulfill that promise. Let's end polio and give the world one less disease infectious disease to worry about.