Polio eradication is within our grasp

The world is poised to add another disease to the list of those that will no longer threaten humans: polio, says U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Julie Gerberding.

So far, the world has only been able to eradicate one disease, smallpox, and as difficult as that eradication was, polio has presented an even tougher challenge. Some infections alert doctors to tell-tale paralysis, but for each of these cases, about 200 people may have only minor flu-like symptoms and can silently transmit the disease for weeks, says Gerberding.

Yet, the end of polio has never been closer:

  • In 1988, there were an estimated 350,000 cases of polio worldwide; in 2005, only 760 people in 13 countries had the disease.
  • In 2003, 415 million children in 55 countries were immunised during National Immunisation Days, using more than 2.2 billion doses of oral polio vaccine.
  • Most national health services have responded quickly to outbreaks; last year, China stopped a potential flare-up and the World Health Organisation launched a massive pre-emptive vaccination campaign in Somalia to prevent an impending outbreak.

    The only obstacles standing in the way of eradication, says Gerberding, are civil war and cultural mistrust:
  • Several Nigerian states have blocked polio immunisation campaigns because they believe that the vaccine is a Western plot designed to render women infertile.
  • The August 2003 refusal by the state of Kano resulted in hundreds of children being paralysed and the virus spreading to neighbouring countries.

    Despite these setbacks, polio eradication is within our grasp and the strategy is clear: eradication in one region after another; isolation to a limited number of countries; and aggressive campaigns to break the chain of transmission and infection, says Gerberding.

    Source: Julie L. Gerberding, Polio, Foreign Policy, September/October 2005.

    For more on Health Issues: Public Health: http://www.ncpa.org/iss/hea/

    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 20 September 2005
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