This USAID photo shows, from left, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Betty King, HHS Director of Global Health Affairs Nils Daulaire, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, and Russian Deputy Minister of Health Veronika Skvortsova at the signing in Geneva.

Russia US Agree to Battle Polio Together

The Jan. 27 signing of a document committing them to work jointly for polio's global eradication is a major step in what some are calling "a final push."

The U.S. government and the government of the Russian Federation have signed a Protocol of Intent on Cooperation for the Global Eradication of Polio, marking an important chapter in worldwide public health. The head of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Administrator Raj Shah, joined Dr. Nils Daulaire, director of the Office of Global Health Affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Dr. Veronika Skvortsova, deputy minister of Health and Social Development for the Russian Federation, at the signing in Geneva, Switzerland.

"I am excited by the potentially huge impact that we can have when combining our countries' respective talent and expertise to overcome our world's development challenges," said Shah, who attended the signing while in Geneva for other meetings.

The World Health Organization, CDC, Rotary International, and the United Nations Children's Fund launched the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in 1988. This has helped to achieve a 99 percent reduction in polio worldwide since then, according to USAID, but there have been polio outbreaks in Central Asia and several new cases reported in Russia in recent years.

"The global eradication of polio is a public health priority for HHS and USAID and for their international partners, including Russia. Ridding the world of this preventable disease will dramatically reduce the global burden of disability and death from polio, especially among the world's children," said Daulaire. "We are pleased to have this opportunity to strengthen our partnership with our Russian colleagues to work towards a world without polio."

The protocol says the partner agencies will share their expertise in coordination with the Global Polio Eradication Initiative strategy, potentially joining forces on disease surveillance, support for immunization campaigns, technical assistance, and advocacy efforts. The United States and Russia have similarly cooperated on global health in the past, including working on HIV/AIDS in several countries in Africa.

"We're now closer than ever to eradicating the disease, and together, the support of these governments and others will make the difference in this final push," said Rotary International President Ray Klinginsmith. Jonathan Hale, deputy assistant USAID administrator for Europe & Eurasia, wrote about the signing on USAID's IMPACT blog: "It pains me to think of the children that unnecessarily suffer from a disease that can be prevented for 14 cents. It's incredible that we're so close to ridding the world of this disease once and for all. I believe that, working with our international partners, we can finally live in a polio-free world. I am excited by the impact that we can have on lives around the world working together as global partners."

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