Never before in the history of polio have so few children in so few countries contracted the crippling virus, but a senior United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) official has vowed “we cannot rest until the number of cases is zero.”
“Progress to end polio is real and dramatic, with now just two countries in the world where the wild poliovirus has never been interrupted: Afghanistan and Pakistan,” said by the head of the Polio Unit at UNICEF, Peter Crowley, in a press release.
“But – and it's a big but – until all children everywhere are consistently and routinely immunized against polio, the threat remains. We cannot let down our guard; we have to keep going until there is not a single child anywhere who remains unvaccinated,” he declared.
According to UNICEF, there have been 51 cases of wild polio virus globally since the beginning of 2015, compared with 242 wild polio cases for 2014.
Nigeria was removed from the list of polio endemic countries last month, having successfully interrupted transmission of wild poliovirus. Such an achievement has encouraged countries in the African region to get closer to being certified polio-free. Moreover, in India there have been no cases of polio-induced paralysis for four years, though thousands of young patients once suffered from such paralysis.
UNICEF delivered 1.7 billion doses of vaccine last year to support the training of the frontline workers and help to build trust in the vaccine among parents and communities in some Nigeria and Pakistan.
Despite this progress, Mr. Crowley noted recent vaccine-derived poliovirus outbreaks in some countries, as the result of low routine immunization coverage. “These outbreaks serve as a reminder of the vital need for intensified efforts to strengthen routine immunization systems and address disparities in children's access to basic health services. In Ukraine, for example, fewer than 14 per cent of children are immunized against polio.”
“We aim to bring a global halt to polio transmission by this time next year, but the only way to do this is for countries with low vaccination dates to re-double their efforts to reach every child, wherever they are and no matter how hard this may be,” he concluded.