The Global Polio Eradication Initiative

It was in 1988 at the 41st World Health Assembly (WHA), comprising of delegates from 166 member countries that a resolution for the worldwide Polio eradication was adopted. Considered as a milestone, it marked the launch of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative under the leadership of the WHO and supported by US CDC, Rotary International and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). This followed the certification of the eradication of smallpox in 1980, progress during the 1980s towards elimination of the poliovirus in the Americas, and Rotary International’s commitment to raise funds to protect all children from the disease. The launch of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative resulted in significant drop in the number of polio cases (> 99 per cent) seen across the globe.

In Nigeria, the northern part f the country has persistently been reporting pockets of polio virus transmission. Furthermore, there are also reported cases of the polio virus along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan and these areas still remain key epidemiological challenges towards eradication of the polio virus. In the case of India, there is sustained level of commitment and if such is maintained, indicators has it that a milestone could be reached within the first quarter of 2012.

It is possible to achieve total polio eradication within the remaining 3 countries especially considering the fact that:

• In 1994, WHO certified 36 countries of the Americas as polio-free,
• In 2000, WHO certified 37 countries in the Western Pacific region including China in and
• In 2002, WHO certified 51 countries in the European region.

With a hind-sight, 2010 was a year when the European region suffered its first importation of polio (after its certification) and in 2011 was a reported case of imported polio in the Western Pacific region.
In my next blog post, I hope to discuss the objectives and strategies of the PEI.

An overview

Polio, a highly infectious disease caused by a virus, has no cure but can only be prevented (life-long) using a polio vaccine given couple of times to under-five children. Infection is by faeco-oral route and gets multiplied in the intestine finally invading the nervous system which resultant paralysis within hours.

Although symptoms are protean in nature, they include fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, neck stiffness and pain in the limbs. In every 1 in 200 infected cases, irreversible paralysis (usually affecting the legs) ensues. In those paralysed, there is a mortality rate of about 5-10 per cent especially when the diseases affected their breathing muscles.

Significant achievements have been recorded due to the intensified efforts to ensure global eradication of the disease. The global case load of the disease have decreased by over 99 per cent from an estimated 350,000 cases in more than 125 endemic countries in 1998 to 1349 reported cases in 2010. Furthermore, case numbers of wild polio virus type 3 are down to the lowest recorded level in history. It is equally important to add that as at 2011, only parts of four countries (Nigeria, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan) in the world remain endemic for the disease and this is considered as the smallest geographic area in history.

In my next blog post, I intend to discuss global Polio Eradication Initiative (PEI).