The March Towards A Polio Free World
With the theme “End Polio Now” for 2018, every year on October 24 the world commemorates World Polio Day to raise awareness on the highly infectious viral disease which mainly affects young children. Poliomyelitis is a virus that may cause paralysis and is easily preventable by the polio vaccine.
At the heart of the efforts to eradicate Poliomyelitis lies two essential tasks categorized thus: finding the virus (surveillance) and protecting children against it (immunization). It is important to note that although, Polio currently has no cure, however, it is preventable through immunization and unlike many other diseases, polio can be completely eradicated.
In the early 20th century, polio was one of the most feared diseases in industrialised countries, paralysing hundreds of thousands of children every year. Soon after the introduction of effective vaccines in the 1950s and 1960s however, polio was brought under control and practically eliminated as a public health problem in these countries.
Many efforts being made to eradicate poliomyelitis around the world are not in vain as there has been a significant 99.9% reduction from the estimated 350,000 cases when the eradication effort began in the year 1988. Worldwide, more than 10 million volunteers have administered about 10 billion doses of polio vaccine on hundreds of national and subnational immunization days at a reported cost of US$ 4.5 billion.
More than 16 million people have been saved from paralysis because of vaccination efforts against polio. In as much as India has been declared polio-free as at the year 2011, three countries remain battling the endemic – Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria, which is closer to eradicating the virus after a second come back as a result of insurgency in the Northeastern region of the country.
Unfortunately, Nigeria is also faced with outbreaks of the circulating vaccine derived poliovirus type 2 ((cVDPV2). According to Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), there are about 16 cVDPV2 cases in 2018. The good news is that Nigeria is at the verge of completely kicking the virus out of the country. Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, advised Nigeria and other countries in the region not to be complacent in their efforts to eradicate polio. She said: “If no new case is confirmed and surveillance is quickly strengthened, the African Region can be certified to have eradicated polio by the end of 2019 or early 2020.”
As the World commemorates this day to raise awareness against the virus, it is important to honour Jonas Edward Salk, the American medical researcher and virologist who discovered and developed one of the first successful polio vaccines. Also important is to commend the commitments and donations of Government leaders, volunteers, individuals and donor organisations to end Polio across the World. Another group of people to be commended are Clergies and Clerics who have leveraged on their positions in Religious assemblies to promote routine immunization and other health services by delivering messages effectively.
WHO advised that the unwanted delay in achieving the target should now be used to benefit future public health efforts. The global health body noted that once polio has been eradicated the world will have available an army of people who have been trained in public health and eradication matters and who will benefit the international community. Nevertheless, the fight to eradicate polio continues!