Today, October 24th, is World Polio Day.
Polio, a crippling and potentially fatal infectious disease which mainly targets children under five, has been 99 percent eradicated globally, with just 2 cases per day in 2010 compared to more than a thousand just a quarter century ago. In recent decades, as the polio vaccine has improved, become less expensive and more widely available, many have hoped the disease would go the way of small pox, becoming the second ever to be eradicated.
Earlier this year, ABC News’ Chief Health and Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser visited a Polio Ward in New Delhi, India. India is one of four countries where polio is still endemic (along with Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria). For many young women at the ward, hopes for the future, including marriage, depend on correcting polio deformities. More than 15,000 polio victims have come to this clinic for corrective surgery.
Despite vast improvements, this map from the Council on Foreign Relations shows how frequent outbreaks are for vaccine preventable diseases, including polio. While polio is only considered endemic to four countries (meaning the disease has been consistently present by international definition), there were outbreaks in at least 18 countries in 2010, including 458 cases in Tajikistan and 323 in Angola, according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. A recent outbreak on the island of Madagascar, where vaccination campaigns have been disrupted by political violence, highlights the complexity of eradication efforts.
The United States, Great Britain and India, along with the United Nations Children’s Fund, Rotary International and Gates Foundation, launched the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) in 1988. Polio, which has no cure, was declared eradicated throughout the Americas in 1994. While GPEI’s goal of eradicating polio globally by 2012 will not be achieved, a resurgence in funding and campaign efforts by groups like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the United Nations Foundation have many hopeful that the last one percent can still be achieved.
Take Action: Learn more about how you can support polio eradication efforts through the United Nations Foundation’s Shot@Life here.