What Global Polio Eradication could mean for your Health Security

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Globalization has brought global health right to our door-step. In a world where everything from global trade to international travel is on the rise, the infectious disease threats of one region of the world can easily become public health threats present in your own backyard.

While it is often the unfamiliar and rare diseases that are thrown into the public spotlight as global health security threats, infectious diseases of all types can be a danger to public health—even a virus that has not been present in the United States for over 30 years, like polio.

“Scenarios for polio being introduced into the United States are easy to imagine, and the disease could get a foothold if we don’t maintain high vaccination rates,” explains CDC’s Dr. Greg Wallace, Team Lead, Measles, Mumps, Rubella, and Polio, Epidemiology Branch, Division of Viral Diseases, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “For example, an unvaccinated U.S. resident could travel abroad and become infected before returning home. Or, a visitor to the United States could travel here while infected. The point is that one person infected with polio is all it takes to start the spread of polio to others if they are not protected by vaccination.”

1960 photograph of a nurse caring for a victim of polio inside an Emerson respirator, also known as an “iron lung” machine.
1960 photograph of a nurse caring for a victim of polio inside an Emerson respirator, also known as an “iron lung” machine.

Today, the average American’s experience with the polio virus does not expand far beyond the black-and-white images of iron-lungs and children in leg braces from our history text books, and the vaccinations received as a child.

The polio virus was the most feared disease of the 20th century, and ravished the United Stated during the late 1940s through early 1950s—crippling nearly 35,000 people in the U.S. each year. Today the U.S. has remained polio-free for over 30 years, thanks to effective vaccines and the high coverage of people who have been vaccinated. Still, the poliovirus is a contagious disease and the threat of polio anywhere means that polio poses a threat everywhere.

Global efforts to end polio worldwide began in 1988 with the launch of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), and have seen great success in the majority of the world. Today 80% of the world’s population lives in polio-free areas. Despite the tremendous successes, three countries still have not interrupted the transmission of wild poliovirus—Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan. As long as polio remains present in these countries, it presents a threat to children worldwide. Global Polio Eradication Initiative Facts

The goal of global polio eradication is to ensure that polio ceases to infect any persons worldwide. Global eradication will save billions of dollars and prevent the paralysis of nearly 200,000 children each year.

In order for the final push towards polio eradication to be achieved, sensitive and timely disease surveillance must be able to detect where the polio virus could still be present. Surveillance allows for polio cases to be accurately identified, and for the transmission of the virus to be traced. Identifying where cases of polio virus are occurring and how the virus is being spread is a crucial component of stopping the poliovirus altogether.

All countries are at risk of importation of polio until it is eradicated completely from the globe. To achieve the final push towards global eradication of polio, CDC’s Emergency Operation Center (EOC) remains activated to coordinate CDC’s response.

Since December 2, 2011, approximately 545 workers have supported CDC’s polio eradication efforts in the EOC and in the field. Of these, 172 workers have completed 876 field deployments to Angola, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, and other areas. In addition, the EOC has provided enhanced capacity to scale up in-country technical expertise and support for polio surveillance; planning, implementation, and monitoring of polio vaccination campaigns; strengthening routine immunization; and improving management and accountability.

Polio incidence has dropped more than 99 percent since the launch of global polio eradication efforts in 1988, but until the final push is made the eradicate polio globally, every country remains at risk. For every one case of polio, 200 more kids are unknowingly infected. CDC continues its close collaboration with partners, including the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Rotary International, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to ensure a coordinated global and country-level response to make the eradication of polio a reality.

Learn more about the latest progress towards polio eradication worldwide, in CDC’s latest MMWR: Tracking Progress Towards Polio Eradication—Worldwide 2013-2014.


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One comment on “What Global Polio Eradication could mean for your Health Security”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    Since polio eradication program has not been very successful like smallpox, and has faced set backs in recent years, despite tremendous human efforts and financial sacrifices, if possible, I suggest the development of a new polio vaccine using the new technologies to serve the goal.

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Page last reviewed: April 27, 2015
Page last updated: April 27, 2015