World Polio Day: progress towards global eradication

Good progress has been observed globally in efforts to eradicate poliomyelitis (polio). Polio is at its lowest level since records began, with fewer cases in fewer districts of fewer countries than at any previous time.

Since World Polio Day 2011, the number of new cases has declined from 467 to 171. One of the landmark achievements of the past year was the removal of India from the list of countries with active transmission of wild poliovirus.

Nevertheless, countries recognize that challenges remain. In May 2011, the World Health Assembly declared polio eradication an “emergency for global public health”. Failure to capitalize on the current momentum would see more and deadlier outbreaks in polio-free regions and lead, within a decade, to 200 000 cases of polio every year worldwide.

Polio-free Europe

Transmission of wild poliovirus was interrupted in the WHO European Region in 1998. In 2002 the Region celebrated its certification as polio free.

Stopping indigenous transmission of wild poliovirus in the 53 countries in the Region was a landmark in the effort to eradicate polio globally, and helped accelerate international momentum towards the goal. Until poliovirus is eradicated worldwide, however, all polio-free regions, including Europe, remain at risk of importation.

2010 outbreak

In 2010, there were 478 confirmed cases of poliovirus infection in the WHO European Region: a stark reminder of the need for vigilance. The outbreak resulted from poliovirus importation from India, which itself has now interrupted indigenous transmission. Hundreds of children in the central Asian republics and the Russian Federation were infected and – tragically – 30 people lost their lives to a disease that could have been prevented.

The last case was reported on 25 September 2010 by the Russian Federation, and in August 2011 the European Regional Certification Commission for Poliomyelitis Eradication (RCC) recognized that transmission had been interrupted, that the Region remained polio free.

Future efforts

Alongside the need to reach the remaining pockets of susceptible populations in the European Region, and maintain and strengthen the quality and sensitivity of surveillance, Member States must strengthen their political commitment to maintain funding and human resources, and to increase their efforts to secure sufficient and regular supplies of vaccines.

World Polio Day, 24 October, is a reminder that the goal of a world without polio is reachable, but countries must maintain the current momentum to eradicate this deadly disease.