Diplomats for Polio Eradication?

September 9, 2011



As China reports four cases of wild poliovirus type 1 close to the border with Pakistan (here) and $128 million in new grants arrive to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (here), I am reminded that the polio eradication effort requires more than money and technical know-how to achieve its goals.

Major obstacles to polio eradication are political. An independent evaluation of the polio program in Nigeria, for example, found that the highly variable importance authorities ascribed to polio was a major obstacle to eradication.


This is where the power of diplomacy could really be useful.

Remember 2010’s Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR)? That was where the U.S. Department of State committed to raise development to high politics, envisioning “a Deputy Secretary of State raising issues like polio eradication with leaders of countries.”

Building on this mandate, Secretary Clinton and other foreign ministries could make sure that ambassadors are educated about the issue in the countries they work with; there could be systematic outreach to partner governments to encourage strong action; and there could be “rewards” in the form of more favorable U.S. and international relations for those countries by stepping up to their responsibility as global citizens.

This is an approach that has barely been considered and yet one that could have many positive effects, constituting a real-world, meaningful manifestation of the diplomacy-development link that Secretary Clinton needs to have as her legacy post-QDDR.