The road to eradicating polio: A dose of good news in global health
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The road to eradicating polio: A dose of good news in global health

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Here is a dose of good news to start your day: cases of wild poliovirus — a highly infectious viral disease that can cause irreversible paralysis or even death — have decreased by over 99% since 1988. Over the same period of time, the number of polio endemic countries dropped from 125 to two. As a result, 18 million people who otherwise would have been paralyzed are able to walk today.

While there is no cure for polio, it can be prevented by immunization. And because polio mainly affects children under 5, immunizing children while they are young is critical. As long as one child is affected with polio, children all over the world are still at risk.

2019 saw some major milestones in the fight against polio. We’ve rounded up the biggest headlines you need to know:

Type 3 polio has been eradicated

In October, the World Health Organization declared that wild poliovirus type 3 (WPV3) has been eradicated worldwide. Wild poliovirus type 2 (WPV2) was already eradicated in 2015. So, of the three wild polio strains, only one type remains and cases of it are concentrated in just two countries — Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This is truly a historic achievement for humanity. With WPV2 and WPV3 eradicated, polio is one step closer to being completely wiped from the face of the earth. This kind of achievement has only been seen once before: the elimination of smallpox in 1980.

Polio eradication efforts have already saved the world more than US$27 billion in health costs since 1988. A sustained polio-free world will save another US$14 billion by 2050.

Nigeria is polio-free

In August, Nigeria reached three years without a case of wild poliovirus after a devastating outbreak of the disease occurred in northeast region in 2016. Thanks to routine immunization, innovative strategies to vaccinate hard-to-reach children, and surveillance, Nigeria was able to stop the outbreak and remain polio-free.

Next year, each country in Africa will undergo a rigorous process to confirm that they are all polio-free. With hope, the entire continent will be certified polio-free by mid-2020.

Now, attention will turn to fully eliminating the last cases of polio in Afghanistan and Pakistan and getting the resources needed to finish the job.

GPEI and Gavi are both up for replenishment

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), started by Rotary International in 1988, is on its final push to tackle the last 1% of cases and eradicate the disease. However, “conflict, political instability, hard-to-reach populations, and poor infrastructure” make this difficult. GPEI will hold a funding event at the Reaching the Last Mile Forum on November 19 in Abu Dhabi to raise money for their endgame strategy.

Building off of GPEI’s comprehensive strategy, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance will provide support for routine polio immunization in the countries that need it most. Gavi is a public-private partnership that was created in 2000 to improve access to new and underused vaccines for children living in the world’s poorest countries. Gavi will hold a pledging conference in June 2020 to raise funds for 2021-2025.

Years of action to fight polio prove what the world can do when we’re committed to a cause. We’ve made great progress against a once-global disease — and now we need to finish the fight.

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