In honor of the polio vaccine’s 60th anniversary this weekend, we wanted to share the World Health Organization’s 10 Facts on Polio Eradication. Thanks to the power of vaccination, we can #endpolio!
While polio is a distant memory in most of the world, the disease still exists in some places and mainly affects children under 5. One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis (usually in the legs). Among those paralysed, 5% to 10% die when their breathing muscles become immobilized.
In 1988, when the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was formed, polio paralysed more than 350 000 people a year. Since that time, polio case numbers have decreased by more than 99% (with only 416 polio cases reported in 2013).
The 3 countries are Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. They face a range of challenges such as insecurity, weak health systems and poor sanitation. Polio can spread from these ‘endemic’ countries to infect children in other countries with less-than-adequate vaccination.
There are 3 strains of wild poliovirus, none of which can survive for long periods outside of the human body. If the virus cannot find an unvaccinated person to infect, it will die out. Type 2 wild poliovirus was eradicated in 1999 and case numbers of type 3 wild poliovirus are down to the lowest-ever levels.
There are 2 forms of vaccine available to ward off polio – oral polio vaccine (OPV) and inactivated polio vaccine (IPV). Because OPV is an oral vaccine, it can be administered by anyone, even volunteers. One dose of OPV can cost as little as 11 US cents.
In fact, it is the largest-ever internationally-coordinated public health effort in history. It is spearheaded by national governments, WHO, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF, and is supported by key partners including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Underpinning the effort is a global network of more than 20 million volunteers worldwide who have collectively immunized nearly 3 billion children over the past 20 years.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative assists countries in carrying out surveillance for polio and large-scale vaccination rounds. When India was still polio-endemic, there were 640 000 vaccination booths, 2.3 million vaccinators, 200 million doses of vaccine, 6.3 million ice packs, 191 million homes visited and 172 million children immunized: all this in just one round of the national immunization days.
This includes those living in the most remote and underserved places on the planet. To get each vaccine safely to children everywhere, all manner of transport is used – from donkeys to motorbikes to helicopters – to reach those living in remote areas, in conflict zones or difficult terrain.
Strategies to find and map every child can be applied to other public health initiatives. While a vaccination team is in a remote village, they can, for little additional cost, provide other health interventions while they are there. For example, vitamin A has been given alongside polio campaigns. Since vitamin A gives a general boost to immunity, it allows children to fend off a range of infections, this has averted more than 1.5 million deaths.
In 2011, this little girl, Rukhsar Khatoon, was the last child to be paralysed by polio in India. The WHO South East Asia Region was declared polio-free in 2014, marking a significant leap forward in global eradication, with 80% of the world’s population now living in certified polio-free regions. The world can be freed of the threat of polio – with everyone’s commitment, from parent to government worker and political leader to the international community.