A Global Effort to Eradicate Polio

Posted on | november 4, 2011 | No Comments

Monday, October 24th was World Polio Day, and while the day gained global attention by much of the press, it was just any other day for most of us. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), polio has declined from an estimated 350,000 cases in 1988 to 1,349 reported cases in 2010. Today the only polio-endemic countries are Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan, a tiny number compared to more than 125 polio-endemic countries in 1988. While polio cases may have dropped 99% over the last 20 years, the last lingering cases must be fought using political will and continued global support to manage and eradicate the disease once and for all.

Much progress has been made; in India substantial efforts to eradicate polio through persistent vaccination programs are on the verge of eliminating the disease, Indian Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad told the BBC. According to reports, there has only been one confirmed case so far this year in the country. Bill Gates wrote in the Huffington Post, A Call to Action on World Polio Day that, “we haven’t done enough yet. Polio is still paralyzing children. The last one percent is the hardest percent, and we have to do even more than we’ve already done if we hope to finish the job on polio. The day the world is declared polio free is the day we can really begin celebrating.”

While there are currently only four countries labeled as polio endemic, polio continues to haunt many other countries enforcing the need for global vaccination drives. Thus while successes are being made in the fight against polio, UNICEF has urged for a greater push against the disease, especially following tests confirming three cases of polio without symptoms among children in Madagascar, raising fears of a broader resurgence after the country’s 2009 political crisis disrupted vaccination efforts. UNICEF officials say immunization programs must reach 80% to 90% of the population to effectively minimize the risk of an epidemic (BBC).  Madagascar is not alone in experiencing a surge of polio, as this year there have been 85 reported cases of polio in the  Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), following years of being polio-free, placing the country as a leader in polio cases.  The virus re-emerged in the country in 2006, with 13 cases, “followed by 41 cases in 2007, five cases in 2008, a temporary decline with three cases in 2009 and a peak of 100 cases last year” (UNICEF).  UNICEF implemented a three day campaign last week to immunize at least 14 million children in the country against polio (combined with administering Vitamin A supplements and deworming), regardless of how remote they were. “No matter where the child lives, we must do our best to reach all boys and girls with the vaccine,” said Granga Daouda, head of UNICEF’s vaccination program in the DRC (IRIN).

As long as one child is infected with polio, children in all countries are at risk of contracting the disease. In 2009-2010, 23 previously polio-free countries were re-infected due to imports of the virus.  It is for that reason that millions of children have, and continue, to be immunized against polio, however the fight for eradicating the disease globally continues to be an uphill battle. While the eradication of  polio across the globe has attracted attention, there has actually been no further reduction in annual cases since 2001 despite extensive efforts, “which has led to getting rid of the last 1% being described as “like trying to squeeze Jell-O to death.’” (NY Times).

AUTHOR: Cassandra Clifford
URL: www.bridgetofreedomfoundation.org and http://children.foreignpolicyblogs.com
E-MAIL: Cassandra [at] btff.org


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