Dr. Zulfiqar Bhutta shares his reflections on polio’s complex 2013. Dr. Bhutta is Founding Director of the Center of Excellence in Women and Child Health at Aga Khan University in Pakistan, and Co-Director of Research in Global Child Health at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children.
Impact: This was a pivotal year for the polio movement – the landmark launch of the Scientific Declaration of Polio Eradication alongside the appearance of polio in Syria and violence against vaccine workers. What are your thoughts on these incredible moments and challenges?
ZB: There are two sides to the situation. There is the fact that in Africa, Syria and particularly around the conflict areas, poliovirus is spreading from the endemic countries to what were not endemic areas. That’s a global threat, which people have been talking about, but this year is a first step toward acknowledging that threat is real, not just theoretical. At the same time, it tells us that programs must be sufficiently flexible to react and respond to these growing challenges. If there is now a close nexus, as I have said and published, between polio and conflict then our responses have to incorporate new, more flexible innovations.
Impact: The goal to eradicate polio by 2018 is ambitious. What is needed to reach that from a funding, policy and implementation standpoint?
ZB:I personally feel that without setting up goals you cannot get anywhere. So if we’re not able to meet that eradication goal of 2018, then we really need to look at a strategy which allows us to do that by 2020 or 2022, at the very latest. We’re merely there. It’s only a handful of countries where polio control needs to be achieved. From a funding and policy perspective, we have complete consensus. We have the money, we have the people, and we have the political parties, and the governments engaged in this effort. Where there is a gap, is the implementation strategy. If you could eradicate polio sitting in New York or Washington, D.C., or Geneva, we would have done that decades ago. Eradication requires strong concerted political leadership and governance on the ground.
Read the rest of the interview here.