Key Facts On Polio Eradication And Why It Still Exists

March 13, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
Hospital doctor shadowing & global health experience programs.

See current opportunities

Polio is nothing more than a distant memory in most parts of the world. After the launch of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in 1988, polio cases have been reduced by over 99%. However, despite this massive global initiative, polio still does exist in certain pockets, particularly Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. Poor sanitation, political instability and weak health systems are some of the obstacles that prevent proper dissemination of the vaccine, which could result in 100% polio eradication.

Clinical exposure in Tanzania Although it may seem like a minor setback, the problem is the polio virus can spread from these endemic countries and can infect children in other countries where the vaccination program is less than adequate. To complete eradicate polio from the face of the earth, it is imperative that every single child must be vaccinated against polio. This includes those children living in the most under-served or the remotest places on the planet.

Several global health organisations have been making ongoing concerted efforts to reach children living in the most remote areas using all manner of transport from helicopters to motorbikes and donkeys. Vaccination teams even go so far as to negotiate ‘safe days’ to reach children living in conflict zones.

Polio is one of the very few diseases that can actually be completely eradicated with persistent polio vaccine initiatives. This is because none of the three strains of wild poliovirus are capable of surviving outside the human body for long periods of time. If the virus is unable to find and infect an unvaccinated person, it will die out.

Also, unlike several other diseases that can only be eradicated by expensive, complicated measures, the vaccines that are effective for polio prevention are cheap and easily available. Polio vaccine is available in two forms – oral and inactivated. Administering the oral form of the vaccine can even be done by volunteers. It does not require a doctor.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative helps countries to carry out large-scale vaccination rounds, which help boost immunity rapidly in the community. The global effort dedicated to eradicating polio is the single largest public-private partnership for public health. It has gone down in history as the largest ever internationally-coordinated public health effort on record. Supporting this effort is a global network of over 20 million volunteers worldwide who have collectively immunized more than 2.5 billion children over the past 20 years.

With all that is being done towards polio eradication, the disease continues to paralyse children. This highly infectious disease affects mainly young children. One in two hundred infections results in irreversible paralysis, usually in the legs. Among those children paralysed by polio, 5% to 10% die because their breathing muscles become immobilised. It has been proven time and again that the strategies for polio eradication will only work when they are fully implemented and this requires more healthcare workers and volunteers who are dedicated to the cause of 100% global polio eradication.