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What will it take to wipe out polio?

Kathryn Reid
Oct 24, 2012
©2012 Simon Peter Esaku/World Vision
A baby gets the polio vaccine at a health center in northeastern Uganda.

Editor's note: October 24 is World Polio Day.

Placing two drops of oral polio vaccine in the mouth of a squalling baby — what’s difficult about that?

In Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan — the only countries where the crippling disease is endemic — ignorance, insecurity, and lack of political will have made it very difficult indeed.

After a decades-long effort to eradicate polio, children continue to be disabled or killed by the disease.

However, by the numbers, the global campaign to fight polio has had a huge impact.

In 1988, there were estimated to be 350,000 cases of polio in the world; the number dropped to 2,917 in 2000. 

Only 171 new cases of polio have been recorded so far in 2012, down from 467 at the same time last year.   Then, the disease was found in 13 countries; now it’s down to four — the three endemic countries and Chad.

This is a very good sign, because in the past three years about half of the cases were from the virus being reintroduced in countries that had been polio free, including China and Russia.

Some of these outbreaks affected adults and killed half of those infected. 

Experts once thought India would be the last holdout of the polio virus, but there hasn’t been a new case recorded there since January 2011

To achieve polio-free status in India, 2.5 million vaccinators delivered polio drops to 172 million children during national immunization days.

They fanned out to take the vaccine in cold packs to distant villages by motorcycle and administered drops on moving trains and at construction sites to the children of seasonal migrants. 

According to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, it will take five steps to eradicate the disease:

1. Keep polio from spreading to other countries from Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan.

2. Step up immunization to contain the intense spread of the disease within northern Nigeria and Pakistan.

3. Move quickly to stop outbreaks in polio-free countries.

4. Improve rates of routine immunization and eliminate surveillance gaps in polio-free areas.

5. Ensure adequate funding and political commitment for a polio-free world.

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