Experts agree that in order to successfully eradicate polio, vaccinators must be protected as they fulfill their duties, Global Health Council Executive Director Christine Sow said Monday in a blog posting.

Eradicating polio has become one of the most notable vaccine campaigns, Sow said. As of today, 99 percent of the world is free of polio, but three countries still have endemic polio outbreaks: Pakistan, Nigeria, and Afghanistan. These countries pose a health threat to neighboring nations, as the polio virus is carried across borders.

One of the reasons polio has not yet been fully eradicated is because there has been a significant rise in attacks against health care workers who are vaccinators. Between 2013 and 2014, there were 89 polio vaccinators and police escorts killed in Nigeria and Pakistan; these deaths exceed the amount of polio deaths from that year, which are estimated at approximately 15 to 30 people.

Health care workers are often the unsung heroes who risk their lives on the frontlines of prevention and response. Unfortunately, locals see these workers as threats, partially because of their own government and culture, and also because of the Western world’s history; the US government admitted to using health care workers to locate Osama Bin Laden, which further endangers vaccinators with suspicious locals.

Health professionals plan to increase the scale of childhood vaccinations by 72 percent in the world’s poorest nations. These improvements will save an estimated 6.4 million lives from 2011 to 2020.

Vaccines protect approximately 2.5 million children from contracting deadly, debilitating diseases each year. The vaccine campaigns produce an economic return amounting to 18 to 30 percent, which is a global investment for the future. In the developing world specifically, illnesses like whooping cough, HIB meningitis, and diphtheria have been reduced significantly.

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