Global Polio Situation

Tremendous achievements have been made in the global fight against polio since 1988 when the World Health Assembly resolved to eradicate the disease. The number of polio cases worldwide has decreased by more than 99%, from more than 350,000 in 1988 to 223 cases in 2012. The number of endemic countries has decreased from over 125 in 1988 to just three – Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.

Since 1988, over 2.5 billion have been immunized against polio thanks to the unprecedented cooperation of more than 200 countries and 20 million volunteers, backed by an international investment of over US$ 10 billion. This means that more than ten million children who would otherwise have been paralysed are walking because of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

Through polio eradication efforts, a significant investment has also been made in strengthening health service delivery systems in many countries. Hundreds of thousands of health workers have been trained, millions of volunteers have been mobilized to support immunization campaigns, and cold-chain transport equipment has been refurbished.  More than 1.5 million childhood deaths have been averted, thanks to the systematic administration of Vitamin A during polio activities. 

In spite of the huge progress made towards eradicating polio, tackling the last 1% of polio cases is proving to be difficult and expensive. Persistent pockets of transmission in the two remaining endemic countries is the key challenge to success.  Until polio has been eradicated from these last remaining reservoirs, children across the world will remain at risk.  Time and again, polio-free countries have been re-infected by virus originating in the endemic areas.  In fact, there is strong evidence to suggest that failure to eradicate polio in these last endemic areas could result in a massive resurgence of the disease.  Within ten years, the world could again see 200,000 new cases every single year.  This would be a humanitarian catastrophe that must be averted at all costs.

Conflict, political instability, hard-to-reach populations, and poor infrastructure continue to pose challenges to eradicating the disease. Each country offers a unique set of challenges which require local solutions.  In two countries, national emergency action plans have been launched and are being implemented, to overcome these long-standing challenges.  And in all three countries, these plans are beginning to show a very clear impact.  At the start of 2013, polio is now at the lowest levels in history, with fewer cases reported from fewer districts of fewer countries than ever before.  

Increased funds from the international donor community and continued political commitment from the remaining polio-affected countries are essential to finish the job. As long as a single child remains infected, there is always the threat of resurgence, putting children everywhere at risk of contracting the disease.

Once eradication is achieved, the challenges will not stop. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative must manage the transition from achieving eradication, to maintaining eradication, and finally to stopping immunization activities with oral polio vaccine.  To secure a lasting polio-free world, a new Polio Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan is being implemented, which addresses the long-term issues in a comprehensive way. 

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