Stepping Up to Take Down Polio

Posted on by Ali S. Khan

Men painting billboard for polio vaccination campaign

Polio is a crippling and potentially fatal infectious disease that is completely preventable. Since 1988, members of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), including CDC, the World Health Organization (WHO), Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Rotary, and UNICEF, have teamed up to eradicate polio world-wide through large scale vaccination efforts. Global polio cases are down more than 99% since GPEI began. We were able to completely eradicate the disease in the Americas by 1994 and protect our children. By 2006, polio was endemic in only four countries:  Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan. Despite our advances, this debilitating and deadly disease continues to afflict children from the poorest communities.

On Friday, December 2 CDC activated its Emergency Operations Center for a period of 18-24 months to support the final effort to eradicate polio, a public health emergency.

Why Now?

Health care workers in India administer oral polio vaccine
Health care workers in India administer oral polio vaccine to a child

Over the past 5 years, poliovirus spread from the 4 countries that had not interrupted transmission to 39 other countries, several of which have not yet contained resurgent polio.  Polio continues to spread in Nigeria and neighboring countries, and is spreading widely in Pakistan as well as bordering areas of Afghanistan.  The world is not on track to meet the goal of interrupting poliovirus transmission by the end of 2012.

If we fail to get over the finish line, we will need to continue expensive control measures for the indefinite future.  A recent analysis concludes that polio eradication would save up to $50 billion by 2035.  More importantly, without eradication, every year, polio could disable or kill more than 100,000 children.

The Independent Monitoring Board for the GPEI recently stated that “Polio eradication could still be achieved by the end of 2012 if the weaknesses at both country and global level can be swiftly corrected.”  The IMB has challenged each of the four spearheading partner organizations, including CDC, to step up their efforts to address these weaknesses.

What Does CDC EOC Activation Mean?

nurse caring for patient in an iron lung
A nurse cares for a polio patient who was placed in an Emerson respirator, often called an “iron lung.” This patient’s ability to breathe was paralyzed due to the disease.

CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden has declared polio eradication a top priority for a CDC-wide response. CDC will continue to work in support WHO and its GPEI partners in this endeavor. The EOC will bring together scientists from across CDC to provide expert scientific and management advice to country-level disease detection and vaccination efforts.

CDC is excited to be part of this historic public health initiative. Over the next few months we will provide updates from our Incident Manager, Dr. Robert Linkins, our partners, and members of our field teams. Stay tuned…

Posted on by Ali S. KhanTags , , , , ,

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Page last reviewed: April 6, 2015
Page last updated: April 6, 2015