ADDIS ABABA/NEW YORK, 23 October – Every day, a thousand or so children have been protected from disability during a 26-year global effort to eradicate polio. The worldwide campaign has immunised millions of previously-unreached children across the globe, UNICEF said on the eve of World Polio Day.
Some 10 million people today would otherwise have been paralysed, while an additional 1.5 million lives have been saved through the routine administration of Vitamin A during polio vaccination drives.
The annual number of polio cases has fallen from 350,000 in 1988, to 416 in 2013, and 243 so far this year – an extraordinary drop of more than 99 percent. All but three countries where polio was firmly entrenched – Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan – have eliminated the virus within their borders. And multiple outbreaks have been contained over the past 26 years.
“In 1988 polio was a leading cause of childhood disability,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “In country after country since then, a generation of children has grown up without the spectre of polio.”
“The success of the eradication effort – reaching some of the most disadvantaged communities in some of the most dangerous circumstances – proves that it is possible to reach all children,” Lake added. “Our most ambitious and audacious goals for children can be met. And if they can be, they must be.”
In Ethiopia, despite significant progress made in polio eradication since the launch of the initiative in 1988, the wild poliovirus (WPV) continues to infect people, causing life-long paralysis and disability, which can only be prevented through vaccination. The Horn of Africa was struck with a polio outbreak in April 2013. To date, 223 cases of WPV1 have been confirmed in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia to date. The date of onset of the last case confirmed in Somalia was in August 2014, indicating ongoing circulation of WPV in the region. Up until 2013, Ethiopia was polio-free since 2008. However, since last year, Ethiopia has confirmed 10 cases of polio – a tragic setback for the country and for the families and children affected.
Rotary International, a lead in the global polio eradication initiative, has contributed more than US$1.3 billion to eradication efforts globally to date. A new campaign promises that every dollar donated to Rotary will be matched 2-to-1 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Rotary has announced a US$44.7 million grant to fight polio in Africa, Asia and the Middle East on 21st October this year and Ethiopia will receive US$ 2 million for polio eradication efforts in the country.
”Rotary International’s commitment to polio eradication has been instrumental in the swift and robust outbreak response in Ethiopia,” said Patrizia DiGiovanni, Acting Representative, UNICEF Ethiopia. “As partners in the fight against polio, we remain resolved to ensure no child is left unimmunized. Every child deserves the basic human right to health and we thank Rotary for their unwavering commitment in this endeavour.”
Nigeria has had only 6 cases this year, down from 49 in 2013. Afghanistan has reduced transmission to very low levels, with most cases linked to Pakistan. With 206 cases already reported this year, Pakistan is now the world’s largest remaining reservoir of polio.
While polio remains endemic in only three countries, it continues to pose a risk to children everywhere, especially in countries which have not made routine immunization a priority, like South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Ukraine. Outbreaks in Syria, Iraq, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Somalia can be traced to Pakistan and Nigeria.
UNICEF procures 1.7 billion doses of oral polio vaccine to reach 500 million children every year. And UNICEF’s social mobilisation work helps persuade families to accept the vaccine when it reaches them. Intensive efforts over the past decade have seen acceptance of the polio vaccine at their highest levels ever in countries where polio remains endemic.
“The world has never been closer to this once-in-a-generation opportunity of eradicating polio for good,” Lake said. “Every child deserves to live in a polio-free world.”