We are so close to eradicating the second disease in history — but there is still work to be done.
Polio once terrorized the world, paralyzing children and killing thousands during what were some of the worst epidemics of our time. But today, polio eradication efforts have come a long way thanks to global initiatives.
Polio is an infectious disease caused by poliovirus — there were three strains of the virus, but it is now assumed that only one type remains at large.
Still, there is work to be done to ensure we eliminate this disease once and for all. Here is where we’re at on World Polio Day 2017.
Polio is eradicated from all but three countries.
The only countries that still experience cases of polio are Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria. That means it is 99.9% eradicated and it makes our fight to end the disease all the more pressing.
This past August, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) declared Somalia as polio-free , as it has not recorded a case of polio in the last three years.
Thanks to Global Citizens, Canada, Australia, and the UK made new commitments to polio eradication this year.
Days ahead of the Rotary International Convention in Atlanta in June, Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop announced the country would commit to A$18 million over two years from 2019 for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI).
At the convention itself, Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of International Development and La Francophonie, announced Canada’s pledge of CAD$100 million to the GPEI
And then, in August, the UK Secretary of State for International Development Secretary, Priti Patel, announced that the UK would commit £100 million towards polio eradication This will immunize up to 45 million children every year until 2020, saving more than 65,000 children from paralysis each year.
Still, it’s not quite enough.
The Commonwealth is home to 2.4 billion people. In April 2018, the leaders will be meeting in London. This could be an opportunity for them to discuss some of the world’s biggest issues, including eradicating diseases like polio. The agenda for the 2018 Commonwealth Summit is being written right now.
Scientists can now create polio vaccines in plants.
Researchers at the John Innes Centre have manipulated the genetic code of a tobacco-plant relative to create a new polio vaccine. This vaccine is extracted from the plant’s leaves — and it was successful in preventing polio in animals during tests.
The approval of this vaccine could make distribution easier as clinics could use the “vaccine-plant” instead of having to wait for vaccines from aid organizations to arrive; which often cannot reach remote areas isolated by conflict.
There are mutant strains of polio derived from the vaccines.
There are actually more cases of vaccine-derived polio than there are wild ones. In 2017, there have only been 12 cases of wild polio, and there have been 61 cases of vaccine-derived polio.
Vaccine-derived cases occur when the oral polio vaccine, which uses a live strain of the virus, mutates and causes polio. While the number of vaccine cases may seem alarming, this will improve as countries transition from using the oral vaccine to the injectable Salk vaccine (which uses a dead strain of the virus).
This is not the wild virus making a comeback, but rather one last obstacle to confront in order to eradicate the disease altogether.
The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) is only about half funded.
Polio eradication efforts are not just important when it comes to eliminating the disease. Efforts to eradicate polio have led to better health systems and improved responses to health crises like ebola and zika.
CEPI was set up in 2016 to develop new and improved vaccines so as to better prepare the world for future epidemics.
CEPI is only about half funded right now, which is why Global Citizens are asking governments to step up and commit to bridge the nearly $500 million funding gap.