After a 28-year-long effort, polio in Africa is nearly eradicated. In August, the World Health Organization launched an intensive investigation into all of the continent’s collected data. The results already indicate one of the greatest public health victories of the century.
Only two cases of polio, both of which occurred in Nigeria, have been reported in the last two years. While these couple of cases prove that more work is needed, the global health community has made incredible strides in eradicating polio in Africa and throughout the rest of the world.
Polio is a highly infectious virus that progressively destroys the central nervous system. Initial symptoms include fatigue, headache, fever, vomiting, pain in limbs and stiffness of the neck. In some cases, it only takes several hours to cause total paralysis of the entire body. The virus spreads person to person or by way of a contaminated vehicle, contaminated drinking water or food are a couple of examples. Children are most susceptible and have been the focus of large-scale vaccination efforts for decades.
When the Global Polio Eradication Initiative launched in 1988, the disease was present in over 125 countries. More than 350,000 people were paralyzed every year. Since then, cases have dropped by 99% and universal vaccination has protected over 13 million children from potential paralysis.
Today, polio was eradicated throughout most of the world. According to the CDC, the U.S. hasn’t seen a single case since 1979. For countries whose health care delivery systems lack funding, infrastructure and political support, polio eradication is an astonishing victory.
Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only two countries where polio transmission has never been interrupted. Even so, the two nations have joined forces to improve vaccination efforts. Pakistani and Afghan leaders have pinpointed their shared border as the focal point of their synchronized effort, establishing 14 new vaccination points.
Recognizing this victory in context reminds us that long-term disease control is possible given the cooperation of stakeholders at the local, regional, national and international levels.
– Jessica Levitan