Poliomyelitis (Part 1)

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Polio and its Symptoms

Polio is highly infectious disease caused by a virus. It invades the nervous system, and can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours. The virus is transmitted by person to person and spread  mainly through the faecal or oral route or, less frequently, by a common vehicle (e.g. contaminated water or food) and multiplies in the intestine. Initial symptoms are fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness of the neck and pain in the limbs. One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis (usually in the legs). Among those paralysed, 5% to 10% die when their breathing muscles become immobilized.


People most at risk

Polio mainly affects children under the age of 5.



There is no cure for polio, it can only be prevented by Polio vaccine, given multiple times.


Global Caseload

Polio cases have decreased by over 99% since 1988, from an estimated 350,000 cases in more than 125 endemic countries then, to 359 reported cases in 2014.

Today, only 2 countries in the world remain endemic for the disease, the smallest geographic area in history. Of the 3 strains of wild Polio virus (type 1, type 2, and type 3). Wild Polio virus type 2 was eradicated in 1999 and case numbers of wild Polio virus type 3 are down to the lowest-ever levels with the no cases reported since November 2012 from Nigeria.


The Global Polio Eradication Initiative


In 1988, the forty-first World Health Assembly adopted a resolution for the worldwide eradication of polio. It marked the launch of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), spearheaded by national governments, WHO, Rotary International, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), UNICEF, and supported by key partners including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This followed the certification of the eradication of smallpox in 1980, progress during the 1980s towards the elimination of the poliovirus in the Americas, and Rotary International’s commitment to raising funds to protect all children from the disease.



Overall, since the GPEI was launched, the number of cases has fallen by over 99%. Today, only 2 countries in the world remain polio-endemic, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In 1994, the WHO Region of the Americas was certified polio free, followed by the WHO Western Pacific Region in 2000 and the WHO European Region in June 2002. On 27 March 2014, the WHO South-East Asia Region was certified polio-free, meaning that transmission of wild poliovirus has been interrupted in 11 countries stretching from Indonesia to India. This achievement marks a significant leap forward in global eradication, with 80% of the world’s population now living in certified polio-free regions.

Of the 3 types of wild Poliovirus (type 1, type 2, and type 3), type 2 wild Poliovirus transmission has been successfully stopped (since 1999).

More than 13 million people are able to walk today, who would otherwise have been paralysed. An estimated 1.5 million childhood deaths have been prevented, through the systematic administration of Vitamin A during Polio immunization activities.

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