GENEVA, Switzerland – Polio has not been a concern for the developed world for decades, and soon the developing world will also be free of this disease. The number of cases of polio have reached record lows, and are only a fraction of numbers in the late twentieth century.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is largely responsible for the dramatic decrease in the spread of polio. The organization is a partnership of a multitude of NGOs including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and many governments. It represents the largest public–private partnership for public health. Since the founding of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in 1988, the number of polio cases has dropped from 350,000 to just 34 so far in 2013.
On top of that, the number of endemic countries (those which have never eliminated polio) has fallen from 125 to only 3: Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria. Polio affects the nervous system, causing paralysis and sometimes death. It primarily affects children ages 5 and under, but anyone can be infected. There is no cure for the disease, and treatments for those afflicted only manage the symptoms. As such, eradication efforts have primarily focused on prevention through vaccination.
The coming achievement of polio eradication shows the potential for eliminating other diseases that plague the developing world. It shows how, if the resources are dedicated to prevention and treatment of these diseases, they can be eliminated. This gives hope to the cause of elimination of tuberculosis and other diseases that cures exist for, but is even more important for contagions like HIV and malaria for which we do not yet have a cure. From looking at the polio example the hope is that these types of viral diseases can be reduced and even eradicated if enough resources are dedicated to the cause.
In the case of HIV, very effective treatments have been developed to reduce the spread and lethality of the disease, but the resources are not present to disperse these treatments to all of those affected. New outbreaks of polio in Kenya and Somalia underscore the need for a final push of consistent funding for polio eradication. These two countries had previously been declared polio free, and now mass vaccinations of the affected areas must occur in order to contain the disease.
Whenever outbreaks like these occur funding has to be available for vaccinations or the world risks losing much hard-gained ground to the disease. To this end, world leaders recently came together at the Global Vaccine Summit and pledged $4 billion dollars towards polio eradication. On May 28th, Australia pledged an additional $80 million towards polio eradication. If polio and other infectious diseases can be eradicated, developed countries are sure to benefit alongside the developing world. – Martin Drake
Photo: Global Polio Eradication Initiative