It looks like we are getting really close to the global eradication of polio. The last countries where it had not been eliminated were Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan but Nigeria has had no new cases of polio for the last year so the African continent seems to be now clear. The remaining cases are in a region of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border but even there only 51 cases have been reported this year and health officials are cautiously optimistic that they can get that area clear too. But until we are sure it is completely eradicated, people all over the world will have to continue to be vaccinated against it.
This NPR report linked above has charts that show how the numbers have declined since 1980 and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has more data on the progress towards eradication of the disease.
Polio incidence has dropped more than 99 percent since the launch of global polio eradication efforts in 1988. According to global polio surveillance data from October 21, 2015, 51 cases of wild poliovirus have been reported in 2015: 38 from Pakistan and 13 from Afghanistan.
On March 27, 2014, Dr. Frieden and senior CDC immunization staff were present when India, along with the other 10 countries of the South East Asia Region, was certified polio-free. The country was once considered the most complex challenge to achieving global polio eradication. Four of the six regions of the World Health Organization have been certified polio-free: the Americas (1994), Western Pacific (2000), Europe (2002) and South East Asia (2014). 80% of the world’s people now live in polio-free areas.
While no polio cases have been detected in India for more than three years, poliovirus transmission is ongoing in the endemic countries – Afghanistan and Pakistan. On May 5, 2014, after receiving advice from an Emergency Committee of independent experts and in order to protect progress toward eradication, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan declared the recent international spread of wild poliovirus a “public health emergency of international concern,” and issued Temporary Recommendations under the International Health Regulations (2005) to prevent further spread of the disease.
It is therefore imperative that we make this final push toward eradication one of our highest priorities. As Dr. Frieden has stated, “If we fail to get over the finish line, we will need to continue expensive control measures for the indefinite future…,More importantly, without eradication, a resurgence of polio could paralyze more than 200,000 children worldwide every year within a decade.” Now is the time, we must not fail.
Complete eradication would likely have happened earlier if not for the obstruction of religious leaders in those areas who perpetuated myths about vaccinations. Opposition to the vaccine programs intensified, with health workers being killed, with the revelation that the CIA used a fake vaccination scheme in their effort to locate Osama bin Laden, a horrific plan that showed an almost criminal level of callousness to the sabotaging of broad public health in pursuit of narrow goals.
But slowly that opposition has also been overcome. If it succeeds, it will be the second major human disease to be eradicated, after smallpox in 1977 and a major triumph of science and international cooperation.