The global polio eradication initiative (GPEI), which started in 1988, represents the single largest, internationally coordinated public health project to date. Completion remains within reach, with type 2 wild polioviruses apparently eradicated since 1999 and fewer than 2000 annual paralytic poliomyelitis cases of wild types 1 and 3 reported since then. This economic analysis of the GPEI reflects the status of the program as of February 2010, including full consideration of post-eradication policies. For the GPEI intervention, we consider the actual pre-eradication experience to date followed by two distinct potential future post-eradication vaccination policies. We estimate GPEI costs based on actual and projected expenditures and poliomyelitis incidence using reported numbers corrected for underreporting and model projections. For the comparator, which assumes only routine vaccination for polio historically and into the future (i.e., no GPEI), we estimate poliomyelitis incidence using a dynamic infection transmission model and costs based on numbers of vaccinated children. Cost-effectiveness ratios for the GPEI vs. only routine vaccination qualify as highly cost-effective based on standard criteria. We estimate incremental net benefits of the GPEI between 1988 and 2035 of approximately 40-50 billion dollars (2008 US dollars; 1988 net present values). Despite the high costs of achieving eradication in low-income countries, low-income countries account for approximately 85% of the total net benefits generated by the GPEI in the base case analysis. The total economic costs saved per prevented paralytic poliomyelitis case drive the incremental net benefits, which become positive even if we estimate the loss in productivity as a result of disability as below the recommended value of one year in average per-capita gross national income per disability-adjusted life year saved. Sensitivity analysis suggests that the finding of positive net benefits of the GPEI remains robust over a wide range of assumptions, and that consideration of the additional net benefits of externalities that occurred during polio campaigns to date, such as the mortality reduction associated with delivery of Vitamin A supplements, significantly increases the net benefits. This study finds a strong economic justification for the GPEI despite the rising costs of the initiative.
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