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Polio_EradicationToday, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), in the largest public-private partnership in healthcare, has reduced polio by 99 percent.

The two organizations first came together in 1988, a time when wild poliovirus was endemic in 125 countries and about 350,000 people, primarily young children, were paralyzed by polio annually. Since then, it is estimated that 10 million children globally have been saved from paralysis.

According to global polio surveillance data from November 4, 2015, 51 cases of wild poliovirus have been reported this year. Thirty-eight of those cases occurred in Pakistan and the remaining 13 cases appeared in Afghanistan.

The Initiative’s goal is to ensure a polio-free world for future generations by distributing a polio vaccine to every child.

According to NPR, the oral polio vaccine may go down in history as one of the most powerful public health tools of modern times. The vaccine is cheap, easy to administer and has pushed polio to the brink of extinction.

But, there is a downside to this version of the vaccine. Unlike its predecessor, a vaccine which is administered by injection, the oral version contains live polio virus. Under some circumstances, the virus from the vaccine can spread, mutate and cause the same paralysis it intended to prevent.

This occurs when a child who’s been vaccinated sheds live virus in their stool. Like wild poliovirus, these vaccine-derived strains thrive in places where there’s poor hygiene, particularly when drinking water is contaminated with human sewage.

The number of vaccine-derived polio cases relative to the hundreds of millions of doses of oral polio vaccine administered each year is incredibly low. According to the Initiative, to date this year, only 16 cases of vaccine-derived polio have been reported globally.

But, that’s almost 11 percent of all cases of polio globally.

Last month, the WHO announced the beginning of a program to phase out oral polio and switch to a safer oral vaccine by April 2016 that contains no live virus.

“The idea of the polio eradication is…to eradicate viruses whether they’re in vaccines or in the environment,” says Elias Durry, emergency advisor on polio for the WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean region. “To get rid of the virus we have to also remove the vaccine that contains the virus.”

Eventually, the rest of the oral polio vaccine used around the globe will be withdrawn from circulation and the final vials destroyed.

It is imperative that we make this final push towards eradication a top priority.

Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director at the Center for Disease Control, explains, “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 thousand children worldwide every year within a decade.”

Kara Buckley

Sources: CDC, Gates Foundation, NPR, Global Polio Eradication Initiative, WHO
Photo: Flickr