Celebrating Progress Towards Polio Eradication

Polio eradication efforts closer than ever to likely triumph – making it more important than ever to finish the job, says Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director General.

WHO Afghanistan/ R. Akbar

Vaccines have been one of the biggest success stories of modern medicine. Thanks to the power of polio vaccines, over 16 million people are walking today who would otherwise have been paralysed by the virus.

Many of these successes were born from the enthusiasm at the end of smallpox in 1970, the only human disease ever to have been eradicated to date. This was living proof of the power of vaccines to permanently improve the world. This week, Dr Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organization, stated that the polio eradication programme is closer than ever to changing the world in the same way as smallpox, boosting world confidence in the power of vaccines to build a better world. But being on the brink of triumph is not enough; much more needs to be done to certify the world polio-free and ensure all future generations are free from the threat of polio thanks to the power of vaccines.

Ten years of progress and challenges

In Dr Margaret Chan’s report on the evolution of public health over the decade she has served as the WHO Director General, she reflects on the highlights and challenges of the past 10 years of polio eradication efforts. In 2007, there were four polio endemic countries, including India, which was causing some to question whether eradication was even achievable. Polio outbreaks were paralysing children in nine countries, and there was a surge in cases.

“Being on the brink of triumph is not enough. The job will be done only when the entire world has been certified polio-free.”  Dr Chan, WHO Director-General

Forward ten years, and India has been polio-free for six years, proving that nothing is impossible. Endemic countries are down to three – Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan – and 2016 saw the lowest ever number of children paralysed by polio in history. One of the three strains of wild poliovirus, type 2, has been declared eradicated, and type 3 hasn’t been seen anywhere in the world since 2012. Eradication is closer than ever.

The power of vaccines to change the world is evident in these signs of progress. But Dr Chan is clear that with the goal of a polio-free world so close, it is more important now than ever that momentum is not lost. “Being on the brink of triumph is not enough. The job will be done only when the entire world has been certified polio-free. The magnitude of that victory will no doubt boost world confidence in the power of public health – and vaccines – to build a better world.”
Read Dr Chan’s chapter on the power of vaccines here.


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