The Global Polio Eradication Effort

Polio cases 2010 (via Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation)

The latest issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report has published an update on the global effort to eradicate polio. Poliovirus is transmitted via the fecal-oral route, and consequently poor sanitation can exacerbate outbreaks. Polio has been a terrible disease worldwide, which up until the Industrial Revolution, was considered an endemic disease. However, after the late 1880’s, major epidemics began to appear in the United States and other countries. These outbreaks, coinciding with the initial demonstrations of effective vaccination for infectious disease, prompted the search for a vaccine for polio. However, it wasn’t until the pioneering work of Jonas Salk that an effective protective vaccine for polio was widely available. Much of that work was accomplished here in the state of Pennsylvania, at the University of Pittsburgh.

Worldwide cases of polio began to plummet after the introduction of the Salk, and later the Sabin vaccine. By the early 1960’s there were less than 100o cases annually, a decrease of about 98 percent in less than a decade, and the last case of indigenous acquired polio in the United States occurred in 1979. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been a leader in the final push to eliminate polio worldwide, and according to their statistics, only 5 countries were considered “polio-endemic” in 2010, with wild polio cases reported in another dozen or so countries throughout Asia and Africa.

The latests MMWR report from the Centers for Disease Control puts for a bit of a rosier picture, and includes the global efforts through 2011. India was recently decreed no longer polio endemic, with no new cases detected during 2011. If no additional cases are detected for another two years, the country will be considered “polio-free.” Much of the concern of the World Health Organization has been recently directed towards several African countries, including Angola, Nigeria, Chad, the Dem. Republic Congo, and Sudan, including into areas that had previously been considered polio-free. Three countries (Afganistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria) are still considered polio-endemic, and much of the future global initiative directed towards eliminating polio will look there.

The 2011 report underscores the fact that polio elimination will continue to require significant vigilance on the part of public health officials from the World Health Organization and local public health offices. Surveillance of outbreaks must continue, with efforts to continue to vaccinate at-risk populations for the foreseeable future. Because polio can be relatively easily reintroduced (Russia experienced an outbreak in 2010, a full 15 years after being certified polio-free), compliance with vaccination must be continued even in areas where polio has not been seen.

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About ycpmicro

My name is David Singleton, and I am an Associate Professor of Microbiology at York College of Pennsylvania. My main course is BIO230, a course taken by allied-health students at YCP. Views on this site are my own.

Posted on March 24, 2012, in A bit 'o history, Danger danger danger! and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on The Global Polio Eradication Effort.

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