What will it take to wipe out polio?

Today is World Polio Day. The global campaign to fight polio has been largely successful. The crippling disease is now endemic in just three countries, and it can be completely eradicated if proper steps are taken.

By Kathryn Reid, World Vision U.S.
Published October 24, 2012 at 12:00am PDT

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.

A very good sign

In 1988, there were an estimated 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 (pdf) 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 (pdf).

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 (pdf) 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.

Steps toward eradication

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.

Our response

In partnership with other organizations, World Vision helps keep polio at bay in India, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Angola.

The CORE Group Polio Project (CGPP) consortium, led by World Vision and funded by both USAID and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, works to eliminate polio worldwide by supporting national vaccination programs and community-based awareness building.

Thousands of volunteers have helped ensure that more than 2 million children under age 5 are protected from polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases.

All of the countries that are part of the the CGPP eradication efforts have made significant progress in the last year, with no new polio cases reported.

How you can help

Thank God for the progress made in the battle against polio. Pray that the remaining countries of Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan would become polio-free, and that countries that are now polio-free would remain so.

Make a one-time donation to help provide vaccinations to protect children from diseases like polio, measles, whooping cough, diphtheria, hepatitis, and tetanus.