Since the Strategic Action Plan on Polio Transition was adopted in 2018, significant changes have taken place in the global health landscape. The recovery efforts from the COVID-19 pandemic, the renewed commitment to eradicate polio, and a sharper focus on strengthening essential immunization and the global architecture on pandemic preparedness and response for health emergencies represent fresh opportunities to integrate and transition polio expertise and infrastructure in polio-free countries to strengthen broader health systems.
It is in this context that WHO regions and programmes are taking action on ten key recommendations of the Mid-Term Evaluation of the Implementation of the Strategic Action Plan on Polio Transition (2018 – 2023), with a united and proactive strategy to sustain integrated functions and assets where they are most needed.
At a recent Member State Information Session on Polio Transition, the Deputy Director General, Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, noted, “2023 is a critical year to build equitable and resilient health systems with primary health care at the centre, to strengthen the global health security architecture and to cross the last mile on eradicating polio.”
“Polio transition is the thread which ties together all three of these agendas. Much progress has been achieved since 2018. We are now building on this firm foundation.”
Overall, the evaluation found that the Strategic Action Plan provided a strong starting point for transition efforts. It helped establish governance mechanisms to ensure accountability and fostered collaboration across the global, regional and country level to integrate polio expertise into broader areas of public health, including immunization, disease surveillance and health emergencies. Meanwhile, the opportunities presented by a sustainable transition have gained prominence, underlined by the contributions of the polio workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic.
WHO’s management response to the evaluation aims to build on these successes and lessons learned. Specific actions include a shift towards regional ownership for local solutions adapted to the country context and the engagement of a wide range of stakeholders in transition discussions, including civil society. Efforts will be tied together through the development in 2023 of a global vision for polio transition, supported by tailored regional action plans and a strengthened monitoring and evaluation framework.
Dr Jamal Ahmed, Coordinator of the Polio Eradication Programme in the African Region, explained, “The focus for the African region in 2023 is developing an overarching regional action plan that assesses activities currently supported by polio and develops a clear road roadmap for the mainstreaming of all activities into priority health programmes.”
Dr Sunil Bahl, Regional Coordinator for COVAX, Immunization and Vaccine Development in the South-East Asia Region, where the polio and immunization networks are fully integrated, outlined plans to hold a regional workshop on transition in early 2023 to develop the South-East Asia regional action plan. The focus will be on mainstreaming core capacities to national governments, whilst ensuring financial sustainability.
Ms Naglaa Ahmed, Polio Transition Focal Point for the Eastern Mediterranean Region explained, “the region is carefully balancing efforts to eradicate polio, respond to polio outbreaks and move ahead with polio transition to strengthen health outcomes.” The region aims to ensure a risk-based approach to transition in their action plan, with countries moving at different paces according to local epidemiology and health systems resilience.
WHO will proactively implement the management response. Action has already been taken on multiple fronts. For instance, WHO is intensifying efforts to address the global backsliding in immunization coverage, especially in geographies with large numbers of children who have missed out on vaccine doses. The polio workforce is playing a key role in these efforts. Similarly, the experience of the polio staff in high-risk settings is proving vital to the success of new initiatives on integrated disease surveillance, together with efforts to strengthen the global architecture for health emergency preparedness, response and resilience (HEPR). Underpinning these efforts is the understanding that resilient health systems are vital to prevent outbreaks or resurgences of polio.
Each of these new actions is a critical flagstone in the road towards a sustainable transition. Looking ahead to 2023, success will rely on continued efforts and a shared vision to use polio expertise and assets to the greatest effect in a changed global health landscape.
All evaluation documents related to the Mid-Term Evaluation of the Implementation of the Strategic Action Plan on Polio Transition (2018 – 2023) are available via the WHO Evaluation Office.