Polio eradication program faces major funding shorfall

Polio experts recently said that a funding shortfall is jeopardizing global efforts to eradicate the crippling viral disease.

The independent monitoring board of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative issued a report detailing a $1 billion shortfall in funding to fight the disease. The GPEI said with global case numbers at their lowest levels since records began, there is a unique opportunity to eliminate polio entirely, according to Reuters.

"But it will not happen if the program remains so desperately under-financed," Liam Donaldson, the GPEI board's chairman, said, Reuters reports.

In January, India became the latest nation to be considered polio-free after not registering a new case for a full year. Only Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria remain polio-endemic countries.

Donaldson said the global financial crisis and a growing need for funding led to the shortfall in the eradication program budget, which for 2012-2013 is $2 billion.

Donaldson said vaccination campaigns in at least 33 countries would have to be eliminated unless funding was dramatically increased. If that occurs, nearly 94 million children would lack protection from the virus, which attacks the nervous system and can leave victims permanently paralyzed.

"This is an extreme and unacceptable risk," Donaldson said, according to Reuters. "These campaigns are not optional extras, they are totally essential. It could set this global endeavor back by many years and vastly increase the eventual cost of achieving eradication."