Polio eradication is within sight
Significant progress was made in eliminating polio during the 1990s, and now eradication of this terrible disease is within sight. In 1988 a global goal of eradicating polio by the year 2000 was set. Because of the vision, hard work and commitment of dozens of donor organizations, and national and local governments, the world is close to eliminating one of the most debilitating and deadly infectious diseases.
Long one of the most feared diseases, polio is a highly contagious viral infection that in severe cases can lead to respiratory failure, paralysis, and death. Prior to the development of a vaccine in 1955, polio paralyzed or killed more than a half million people every year. There is no cure for polio, and more than half of all cases of the disease are in children under age three. The only effective way to way to prevent and eliminate polio is through worldwide immunization.
As a result of the efforts of the World Health Organization, Rotary International, UNICEF and a host of other partners, reported cases of polio fell from an estimated 350,000 at the beginning of the 1990s to around 5,000 at the end of the decade. Through one of the largest international public health campaigns in history, two to three million children have been spared from the effects of polio.
Much of this progress comes from the success of well-coordinated National Immunization Days (NIDs). Organized through governments and communities around the world, NIDs are responsible for vaccinating almost two billion children in the last five years. In one week alone last year, more than 70 million children were immunized during a synchronized polio vaccination effort involving 17 West African nations.
North and South America have been officially certified as polio-free and Turkey remains as the only European nation reporting cases in the last year. The number of countries still affected by the disease has dropped from 125 to 20, the majority of which are now mainly concentrated in Central and Southern Asia, and West and Central Africa.
Complete elimination of the disease will require that every child has been fully immunized, and that every country remains free of any new cases for at least three years. Once this occurs and immunizations are no longer needed, the savings from polio eradication are estimated to be around US $1.5 billion per yearfunds that can be used to address other important public health priorities.
The worldwide effort to eradicate polio is at the critical final stages. With one last intensified commitment of resources and effort on the part of governments, donor organizations and individuals, polio could be wiped out by the year 2005, following small pox as the second disease to ever be eradicated.