The study (.pdf), published in the journal Vaccine by a team of scientists from non-profit group Kid Risk, evaluates the investments made since the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was formed in 1988.
The GPEI is a public-private partnership led by national governments, the World Health Organization, Rotary International, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the United Nations Children’s Fund.
The study examined the 104 countries — mostly lower-income nations — that directly benefit from the GPEI.
According to the researchers’ cost-benefit calculations, the initiative will prevent more than eight million cases of paralytic polio in children through 2035, reducing treatment costs and boosting productivity.
Moreover, “add-on” efforts such as delivering vitamin A supplements — supplied with polio vaccines — are estimated to save an additional $17 to $90 billion, according to the study.
“Polio eradication is a good deal, from both a humanitarian and an economic perspective,” lead study author Radboud Duintjer Tebbens said in a statement.
Conversely, prolonging eradication is costly, according to the study.
The GPEI is credited with reducing the global incidence of polio by 99 percent since its founding and completely eradicating type 2 wild polioviruses in 1999.
Currently, the initiative is focusing on halting transmission of types 1 and 3. Worldwide, the disease only remains in small areas in Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
But as with any virus, the threat remains for all nations until the virus is completely eradicated, demonstrated by outbreaks in Tajikistan and Congo in 2010.
“Investing now to eradicate polio is an economic imperative, as well as a moral one,” said Tachi Yamada, president of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Health Program, in a statement. (The Gates Foundation provides financial support to the GPEI.)
Kid Risk is an independent non-profit organization started in 2009 as the successor to the Kids Risk Project at the Harvard School of Public Health. Research partners for the study include the U.S. CDC, Delft University of Technology and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.