Polio has existed since thousands of years paralyzing individuals all over the world. WHO and its outreach programmes have worked mindlessly in the past few decades to rid the Earth of this deadky virus and improve living standards all over. Their efforts have borne fruit as we see ourselves reaching the finish line. One strain of the virus still remains, with small numbers of cases continuing to be reported in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Although the poliovirus vaccine was developed in the 1950s, it wasn’t until 1988 that an official global effort to eradicate the infectious virus commenced. Called the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, the campaign has arguably been one of the greatest global health success stories in human history.
In 1988, there were an estimated 350,000 cases of polio worldwide. Thirty years later in 2018 there were just 33. That is an incredible 99.9% success rate for the global eradication effort.
Pakistan has come a long way in its struggle to eradicate polio. Through its efforts, case numbers have declined up to 99% from 20,000 cases in the early 1990s
There are three strains of wild poliovirus (WPV). WPV2 was the first to be officially declared eradicated in 2015, with the last detected case in India in 1999. WPV3 has not been detected since 2012, and after several years of tracking the WHO has now officially declared it gone from the face of the Earth, apart from some samples kept in secure laboratory environments.
“Wild poliovirus type 3 is globally eradicated,” announced David Salisbury, chair of the independent Global Commission for the Certification of Poliomyelitis Eradication, at a recent event at the WHO headquarters in Geneva. “This is a significant achievement that should reinvigorate the eradication process and provides motivation for the final step – the eradication of wild poliovirus type 1.”
Afghanistan and Pakistan are the only countries in the world still reporting cases of WPV1. No cases of WPV1 have been reported in Africa since 2016, so total eradication is possible, although social and political issues in both Afghanistan and Pakistan are proving challenging for widespread vaccination plans.
What is Polio?
Polio, short for poliomyelitis, or infantile paralysis, is an infectious disease caused by the poliovirus. In about 0.5 percent of cases, there is muscle weakness resulting in an inability to move. This can occur over a few hours to a few days. The weakness most often involves the legs, but may less commonly involve the muscles of the head, neck and around the lungs.
There are three types of wild poliovirus, which, while scientifically different, cause the same symptoms, including paralysis or even death. Poliovirus can be transmitted through direct contact with someone infected with the virus or, less commonly, through contaminated food and water. People carrying the poliovirus can spread the virus for weeks in their feces. People who have the virus but don’t have symptoms can pass the virus to others.
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Polio usually affects children under five. The WHO estimates one in 200 cases leads to irreversible paralysis. Death can occur when breathing muscles are affected by the paralysis.
In 2013, the World Health Organization had hoped that vaccination efforts and early detection of cases would result in global eradication of the disease by 2018, however, we are yet to achieve that.
Pakistan’s Battle with the Polio Virus
Pakistan is one of two remaining polio-endemic countries in the world, along with Afghanistan. However, since the launch of the Pakistan’s Polio Eradication Programme in 1994, there has been a massive decline in polio cases in Pakistan from approximately 20,000 every year in the early 1990s to only eight cases in 2018.
As long as the virus continues to circulate in Pakistan, no child in Pakistan is completely safe from contracting the polio virus. This is why it is the shared responsibility of all Pakistanis ensure that all vulnerable children under the age of five are vaccinated against this deadly disease in every door-to-door campaign.
The Pakistan Polio Eradication Initiative has been fighting to end the crippling polio virus for over 25 years. The initiative is driven by up to 260,000 polio workers, the largest surveillance network in the world, quality data collection and analysis, state of the art laboratories and some of the best epidemiologists and public health experts of Pakistan and the world.
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Pakistan has come a long way in its struggle to eradicate polio. Through its efforts, case numbers have declined up to 99% from 20,000 cases in the early 1990s. So far in 2019, 62 cases have been reported including 46 cases from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 5 cases from Punjab, 5 cases from Baluchistan and 6 cases from Sindh province. This new milestone is raising our hopes for complete global eradication of this deadly disease and we pray to find better rehabilitation for the affected population.