80 Percent Of World Population Now Lives In Polio-Free Zone



Published on 28 March 2014


by Office of the Spokesperson

(WireNews+Co)

Washington, D.C.

An 11-member group of nations representing a combined population of 1.8 billion people from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean is certified polio-free by an independent panel of medical experts. The March 27 certification from a panel sanctioned by the World Health Organization (WHO) declares that nations ranging from India to Bangladesh to Thailand have defeated the crippling disease.

The certification comes after three full years have passed without a single illness being caused by wild poliovirus across the region, an achievement once thought almost impossible in this populous wide-ranging area, especially India.

“This is a momentous victory for the millions of health workers who have worked with governments, nongovernmental organizations, civil society and international partners to eradicate polio from the region,” said Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO’s regional director for Southeast Asia. “It is a sign of what we can bequeath our children when we work together.”

Other conditions must also be met for a region or nation to achieve polio-free status, according to WHO documents. Laboratory-based surveillance for poliovirus must be in place, with a performance deemed “excellent,” and countries must consistently demonstrate that they can detect, report and respond to imported cases of poliomyelitis. Further, the nations must satisfy the WHO certification panel that sufficient procedures and facilities are in place to properly contain polioviruses and prevent their redistribution in the environment at large.

The declaration covers the following nations, with a combined population of 1.8 billion: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste.

Certification of these nations as polio-free means that 80 percent of the world’s population is now protected from the disease, a global undertaking that began more than 25 years ago, when polio cases numbered in the hundreds of thousands each year.

WHO, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the service organization Rotary International and UNICEF have been the leading partners in this international campaign to achieve universal and continual vaccination of children against polio.

Since these organizations launched the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), 2.5 billion children have been immunized against polio, with the cooperation of more than 200 countries and 20 million volunteers. International donors have backed this attempt to rid the world of this disease with investments of more than $8 billion.

Only three nations — Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria — still experience cases of endemic polio, that is, strains of the virus that exist in the wild in the environment. Wild virus caused 160 polio cases in 2013 in those three countries, according to GPEI reporting. In 2014 so far, 41 cases have been detected in the endemic countries.

However, cases still occur each year in countries previously declared polio-free. This happens when a traveler is exposed to wild virus in one of the endemic countries and then carries it to another country where the blanket of vaccination has not stretched far enough.

“Polio anywhere in the world is a risk everywhere in the world,” according to CDC’s director, Dr. Thomas Frieden, who has emphasized the importance of maintaining vigilance in inoculation campaigns at various public appearances as the GPEI enters its endgame.

Inoculation of children must remain a never-ending campaign. Every year’s newborn children will be susceptible to exposure if vaccination campaigns are not rigorous and thorough. It’s a huge responsibility — and a difficult one to fulfill in times of conflict, instability or natural disaster.

But much has been gained in achieving that capability, health experts say. Efforts to reach every child in the most remote and rural areas have shown that health care services can be delivered amidst challenging obstacles.

“Now the polio programme has successfully reached [children everywhere] with polio drops in every round, there is no excuse not to go back with other critical health services, from how to have a safe birth, to where to get access to tuberculosis treatment and how to prevent HIV infection,” said Khetrapal Singh in a WHO press release.

Through the effort to eradicate polio, health personnel and community workers are trained and equipped to provide other health services. WHO reports that GPEI has put global laboratory and communication networks in place that are now available for use in outbreaks of other diseases. Most recently, these networks played a critical role in responding to influenza outbreaks, which have the potential to escalate into wide-scale epidemics.

 

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Posted 2014-03-28 11:07:00