Case Detail

Case Summary

Polio Eradication-Within Our Reach?

Case Number: 5-409-757, Year Published: 2009, Revision Date: November 08, 2013

HBS Number: KEL492

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Authors: David Besanko; Sarah Gillis; SiSi Shen

Key Concepts

Disease Eradication, Global Health, Global Public Good, Government Policy, Health Care, Infectious Disease, Public Health, Social Responsibility


The years 2011, 2012, and 2013 witnessed both significant developments and setbacks in global polio eradication efforts. On the positive side, January 13, 2012, marked a full year since India had detected a case of wild poliovirus. On the negative side, polio continued to be endemic in three countries—Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria—and in those countries the goal of eliminating polio seemed more challenging than ever. Between December 2012 and January 2013, sixteen polio workers were killed in Pakistan, and in February 2013, nine women vaccinating children against polio in Kano, Nigeria, were shot dead by gunmen suspected of belonging to a radical Islamist sect. In addition, after a 95 percent decline in polio cases in 2010, the number of cases in Nigeria rebounded in 2011. Recognizing that polio was unlikely to be eliminated in these countries in the near term, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative moved its target date for eradication from 2013 to 2018.

These setbacks sparked a debate about the appropriate strategy for global eradication of polio. Indeed, some experts believed that recent setbacks were not caused by poor management but were instead the result of epidemiological characteristics and preconditions that might render polio eradication unachievable. These experts argued that global health efforts should focus on the control or elimination of polio rather than on the eradication of the disease.

This case presents an overview of polio and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative and recounts the successful effort to eradicate smallpox. The case enables a rich discussion of the current global strategy to eradicate polio, as well as the issue of whether eradication is the appropriate global public health objective. More generally, the case provides a concrete example of a particular type of global public good, namely infectious disease eradication.

Learning Objectives

After analyzing and discussing the case, students will be able to:

  • Understand the nature of a global public good
  • Perform a back-of-the-envelope benefit-cost analysis of polio eradication
  • Discuss the appropriate strategy for eradicating an infectious disease
  • Apply game theory to analyzing which countries would be likely to contribute funds toward global polio eradication
  • Discuss the role of private organizations in the provision of global public goods
  • Number of Pages: 32

    Extended Case Information

    Teaching Areas: Economics

    Teaching Note Available: Yes

    Geographic: Global

    Industry: Health Care

    Year of Case: 2013