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Global Leaders Unite to End Polio -- But Where Is the U.S.? | Commentary

The $5.5 billion plan pursues multiple avenues to end polio by 2018, including simultaneously interrupting all polio virus transmission, strengthening routine immunization and ensuring that eradication leaves a legacy to benefit other public health priorities. The plan’s comprehensive approach is different from past endeavors, and relies on upfront assurances of full funding to confidently make the long-term investments that will be necessary to end the disease.

Despite new commitments from around the world, including major multi-year commitments from several countries, the present plan still faces a $1.5 billion funding gap that dramatically compromises its chances of success. The U.S. government must now step up, as it has so generously in the past, by making a multi-year commitment to polio eradication in the same way it has for other critical global health priorities, including the GAVI Alliance for children’s vaccines and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2014 budget includes a $15 million increase for polio, which is a significant step in the right direction. But that won’t be enough to take us to the end.

In these times of budget austerity, it is more important than ever for Congress to prioritize polio and go beyond the president’s proposal. Eradication is a worthwhile investment that is expected to generate $40 billion to $50 billion in benefits, mostly to the poorest countries. Conversely, if we fail to eradicate polio, we will continue paying the price of the disease indefinitely. The cost of maintaining current vaccination campaigns — $1 billion per year worldwide — is simply not sustainable.

As Bill Gates noted: “Successful implementation of the plan requires a significant but time-limited investment that will deliver a polio-free world and pay dividends for future generations.”

Working together, the global community can provide a great gift to humanity: generations of polio-free children. Congress and the American people have always been on the front lines of this struggle. We must continue our commitment until the job is done.

David Oshinsky is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Polio: An American Story,” directs the Division of Medical Humanities at the NYU-Langone Medical Center.

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