At the United Nations building in New York City, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is hosting a polio-eradication event which started on 27th September. The event, called "Our Commitment to the Next Generation: The Legacy of a Polio-free World", aims for a total and permanent eradication of polio globally.
Donor nations, private sector contributors and development institutions presented a new type of finance mechanism from the Islamic Development Bank involving $227 million over a three-year period to eliminate polio in Pakistan once and for all.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said:
"This decisive moment is a matter of health and justice. Every child should have the right to start life with equal protection from this disease. That's why I have made eradicating polio a top priority for my second term as Secretary-General."
Polio, also known as poliomyelitis, is a highly contagious viral infection which can be prevented by taking a vaccine. Poliomyelitis comes from the Greek word polios meaning grey, and myelos which refers to the spinal cord - itis means inflammation. It has been more than 99% eliminated worldwide.
A child receiving a polio vaccine in Brazil
According to the "Polio Eradication Initiative", the total number of polio cases globally this year is lower than it ever was, and there are fewer countries affected by polio than at any moment in history. The number of countries affected by polio has dropped from 125 in 1988 to just three today - Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. There has not been one polio case in India for over 18 months. In January this year the World Health Organization announced that India, once a hotspot, had been polio-free for 12 months.
Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a major donor to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), said:
"The evidence is clear: if we all do our part, we can and will end this disease. But we must act quickly and give ourselves the very best chance to succeed. When we defeat polio, it will motivate us to aim for other great health and development milestones."
The World Health Assembly, which took place earlier on this year, saw 194 countries declare that polio eradication is a "programmatic emergency for global public health." The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) says it is developing a long-term road map for eliminating polio completely.
WHO (World Health Organization) Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan, described the failure to eradicate polio forever is "unforgivable". She added that together we can bring this "long hard drive over the last hurdle", something not a single one of us can do alone.
In this "Decade of Vaccines", eliminating polio completely has been described as an early milestone. It is crucial that all children throughout the world are vaccinated.
UNICEF executive director, Anthony Lake, said "Together we can make history by eradicating polio - thanks mostly to the heroes in the field who risk their lives, every day, to deliver vaccines to children in some of the most dangerous parts of the world."
How common is polio worldwide today?From January to 20th September 2012 there have been 150 reported cases of polio worldwide, compared to 409 during the same period in 2011. In 2011, there were 650 total cases in the whole year. Of the 150 cases so far this year, only 5 occurred outside the three endemic countries, compared to 256 in 2011.
The USA has had no cases of polio for many years. In 1952, a polio epidemic emerged involving 58,000 reported cases, 3,145 deaths and 21,269 people who became mildly paralyzed.
Although eradicated many years ago, there are 40,000 polio survivors with different levels of paralysis today in Germany, 30,000 in Japan, 24,000 in France, 16,000 in Australia, 12,000 in Canada and 12,000 in the UK.
According to the Polio Association, there are about one million Americans who survived the great polio epidemics of the 1940s and 1950s. There are no details on how many live with paralysis.
Below are some figures from the World Health Organization showing how many reported cases of polio there were in 2011 and 2012 up to 20th September, 2012:
Year to date 2012 - 33. Total 2011 - 62. Most recent reported case - 1st Sept, 2012. Nigeria has been trying hard to get all its children vaccinated. In Kano state, northern Nigeria, parents were warned of stiff fines and possible imprisonment if they refused to have their children vaccinated against polio.
Year to date 2012 - 37. Total 2011 - 91. Most recent reported case - 1st Sept, 2012, 2012.
Year to date 2012 - 18. Total 2011 - 80. Most recent reported case - 28-Aug, 2012.
Year to date 2012 - 0. Total 2011 - 1. Most recent reported case - 134th Jan, 2011.
Year to date 2012 - 5. Total 2011 - 132. Most recent reported case - 14th Jun, 2012, 2012.
- Democratic Republic of Congo
Year to date 2012 - 0. Total 2011 - 79. Most recent reported case - 20th Dec, 2012.
Year to date 2012 - 0. Total 2011 - 4. Most recent reported case - 7 Jul, 2011.
Year to date 2012 - 0. Total 2011 - 2. Most recent reported case - 22 Dec, 2011.
Year to date 2012 - 0. Total 2011 - 4. Most recent reported case - 8th Dec, 2011.
Year to date 2012 - 0. Total 2011 - 10. Most recent reported case - 9th Oct, 2011.
Year to date 2012 - 0. Total 2011 - 2. Most recent reported case - 3rd Aug 2011.
Year to date 2012 - 0. Total 2011 - 1. Most recent reported case - 30th Jul, 2011.
- Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
Year to date 2012 - 0. Total 2011 - 36. Most recent reported case - 24th Jul, 2011.
Year to date 2012 - 0. Total 2011 - 7. Most recent reported case - 23rd June, 2011.
Year to date 2012 - 0. Total 2011 - 1. Most recent reported case - 22nd Jan 2011.
Year to date 2012 - 0. Total 2011 - 1. Most recent reported case - 15th Jan, 2011.
- Total in endemic countries
Year to date 2012 - 145. Total 2011 - 650.
- Total in other countries
Year to date 2012 - 5. Total 2011 - 309.
Conspiracy theories and fighting undermine anti-polio effortsThousands of children in Pakistan have not been vaccinated because of fear and suspicion from adults, and fighting along the Pakistan-Afghan border. The Taliban say people should not take the vaccines because they do not know what is in them. Rumors fly that they are part of a Western campaign to sterilize Muslims. Some even believe that the vaccines contain George Bush's urine.
Reuters wrote about a two-year-old Pakistani boy called Fahad Usman who became infected with polio - Fahad will never be able to walk. Elias Durry, WHO polio eradication coordinator in Pakistan, said that in Fahad's case it was fighting and not suspicion which prevented him from being immunized. Campaigns have been disrupted along the Pakistan-Afghan border by fighting. Many of the children who have not been vaccinated live along border villages.
Fahad's father, Mohammed Usman told Reuters about the devastation caused by cultural and religious conflicts along the two countries' borders. Mr Usman said of his son "It's very painful for me to hold him, to know that he will not be able to walk. Every time his mother looks at him she has pain in her eyes."
Usman explained that it was only when he learned that his child was paralyzed and would never be able to walk that he realized how important the polio vaccine is. He grabbed a batch of vaccines, left his refugee camp and made his way through dangerous territory to his village and gave them "to over 50 children". He said he was committed to making sure no child in his village would suffer like his son has.
Bill Gates said:
"(We are) working hard to depoliticize the whole thing. In no way should this campaign be associated with just the West. This is the whole world working together to eradicate a disease."
About Polio (Poliomielitis)In about 95% of poliomyelitis cases, the patient displays no symptoms; this is called asymptomatic polio, as opposed to symptomatic polio (about 5% of all cases). Symptomatic polio can be non-paralytic (abortive polio) or paralytic polio (from 0.1% to 2% of all cases).
Paralytic polio has three main classifications:
- Spinal polio - the motor neurons in the spinal cord are attacked, leaving the patient paralyzed in the arms and legs. There may also be breathing difficulties.
- Bulbar Polio - the neurons which allow us to see, taste, swallow and breathe are affected
- Bulbospinal polio - a combination of both spinal a bulbar polio
Who is at higher risk of becoming infected? - polio victims tend to be very young children and babies, pregnant mothers, and people with considerably weakened immune systems. Any person who has not been vaccinated against polio is at risk of becoming infected.
What causes polio? - polio is caused by infection with the poliovirus, an extremely contagious virus that affects humans specifically. Typically, the poliovirus enters the environment in the feces of an infected person. In areas where sanitation is poor, the virus can spread rapidly through the fecal-oral route, either through contaminated food or water. Direct contact with an infected person is also a common way of becoming infected.
What are the symptoms of polio? - if a person does have symptoms, they usually start off as flu-like ones, including sore throat, headache, vomiting, fatigue, pain in the legs, arms, neck and back, stiffness, muscle tenderness, muscle spasms, meningitis, and fever.
If a patient has non-paralytic (abortice poliomyelitis), the symptoms will eventually go away and they make a full recovery. In cases of paralytic polio, more serious signs and symptoms develop, including severe muscle pain and spasms, loose or floppy limbs (usually worse on one side of the body), loss of muscle reflexes.
Is there a cure for polio? - no, there is no cure. Treatments focus on making the patient as comfortable as possible, preventing complications and easing the symptoms. This may include resting in bed, administering antibiotics to prevent further complications, ventilators to assist those with breathing problems, painkillers, physical therapy, moderate exercise, and special diets.
Some famous people who became infected with polio (including non-paralytic and paralytic polio):
- Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) - the 32nd President of the United States. Some wonder whether it was polio or Guillain- Barré syndrome.
- Niel Young (born 1945) - singer/songwriter/guitarist. Niel Young caught polio when he was five years old during an epidemic in 1951.
- Alan Alda (born 1936) - actor, played the role of Hawkeye Pierce in M*A*S*H, a popular television series. Alda became infected when he was seven years old during an epidemic.
- Mia Farrow (born 1945) - actress. Farrow became UNICEF goodwill ambassador in 2000 and campaigns for the anti-polio fight. When she was nine years old she collapsed and was diagnosed with polio. Farrow was hospitalized for eight months; an iron lung was used to help her to breathe.
- Donald Sutherland (born 1935) - actor. Sutherland became infected when he was a child. He says that while he was bedridden he developed a love of reading.
- Francis Ford Coppola (born 1939) - film director, producer, and screenwriter. Coppola said "When I was nine I was confined to a room for over a year with polio, and because polio is a child's illness, they kept every other kid away from me. I remember being pinned to this bed, and longing for friends and company."
- Ian Dury (1942-2000) - rock-n-roll singer/songwriter. He was leader of the band "Ian Dury and the Blockheads". He became ill with polio at the age of 7, his hand and leg were left shriveled. Drury was a UNICEF campaigner.
- William John Little (1810-1894) - founder of the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital, London. Little was the first person to identify cerebral palsy. When he was two years old, he became infected with poliomyelitis and had a deformed foot for the rest of his life. He subsequently chose to become a doctor so that he could find a cure for his foot.
- Jack Nicklaus (born 1940) - a famous retired professional golfer. Nicklaus caught polio at the age of 13. Although he recovered with no paralysis, he suspects he probably has post-polio syndrome (sore joints). Nicklaus' sister also became infected, she probably caught the disease from him, and could not walk for 12 months.