Ending polio will require an estimated $5.5 billion between 2013 and 2018. It's a substantial investment because we have to reach and vaccinate more than 250 million children multiple times every year, conduct monitoring and surveillance in more than 70 countries, and finish building a sustainable infrastructure to support routine immunization for other infectious diseases and improve maternal health..
Failing to achieve global eradication would cost far more. Mathematical models suggest that abandoning the program before eradication is achieved would result in a resurgence of polio – within a decade as many as 200,000 cases of paralysis each year .Treating those cases would cost more money in the long run. Plus, of course, the human costs of sliding backward are incalculable.
On the other hand, ending polio will free up resources that can be invested in other global efforts to reduce child mortality and end extreme poverty. Estimates show that eradicating global polio now could generate net benefits of $40-50 billion globally by 2035, with most of that savings in the poorest countries.
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The most recent example of the benefits of ending polio can be seen in India. Once considered the hardest place to get rid of polio, India just celebrated three years of being polio-free, and is now turning its sights to measles and immunizations for other diseases.
Creating a polio-free world is within our reach. Eradicating the disease will prove to be one of the smartest investments the world has ever made. And the health infrastructure we leave behind will have lasting benefits to achieve other global health goals.
Chris Elias is president of the Global Development Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and oversees the foundation's efforts to eradicate polio worldwide.