Push to end polio gains ground
During National Immunization Days in Nigeria, a girl has her finger marked to indicate she has received the oral vaccine. Photo by Joseph Lorenzo
Although the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) has faced sobering challenges in the past year, it is moving forward in key political, technical, financial, and operational areas.
Stepped-up efforts to end the disease in the four endemic countries of Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan are paying off, GPEI officials say.
"Rotary International has played an extraordinarily special role [in the GPEI], not just as one of the initiators but in bringing financial resources, political advocacy, and volunteerism on the ground to getting the job done," says Dr. Bruce Aylward, director of the GPEI at the World Health Organization.
According to WHO, the incidence of polio in Nigeria in 2009 dropped by almost half to 383 cases as of 10 November, compared with 753 cases for the same period in 2008. Most dramatic has been the decline in the transmission of the type 1 wild poliovirus, to 73 cases from 692 cases. Also, the proportion of unimmunized children in Nigeria's highest-risk states fell below 10 percent for the first time.
In Pakistan, the incidence of polio decreased to 76 cases from 96 cases. Rotarians there have encouraged the national government to give strong support to ending the disease. This advocacy effort helped prompt the government's decision to launch the Prime Minister's Action Plan for Polio Eradication. On behalf of Rotary International in August, International PolioPlus Committee Chair Robert S. Scott recognized Pakistan's president, Asif Ali Zardari, with a Polio Eradication Champion Award for his outstanding support for a polio-free world. Read more.
Although the incidence of polio in India increased to 568 cases, compared with 503 cases a year ago, all but two of India’s 35 states and territories have stopped transmission of the wild polio virus.
Afghanistan recorded the same number of polio cases, 24, as a year ago. The wild poliovirus is endemic only in the south, and about 80 percent of children live in polio-free areas.
In 2010, a new vaccine is expected to be introduced to help stop the transmission of the type 1 and type 3 wild polioviruses simultaneously. This bivalent vaccine, health officials believe, will multiply the gains made during the past year toward eradicating polio.
Worldwide, the number of polio cases has dropped from more than 350,000 in 1988, when the GPEI began, to 1,651 in 2008. The remaining 1 percent of cases are the most difficult and expensive to prevent, however. That is why continued support for Rotary's US$200 Million Challenge, which is close to reaching the halfway mark in funding, is crucial to the GPEI's success.
"Rotary's challenge ends 30 June 2012. Let's push confidently ahead to reach our goal and help ensure that all the children of the world will be forever safe from this devastating disease," says Rotary Foundation Trustee Chair Glenn E. Estess Sr.