|In Chad, six-year-old Terrance Denerobo, who has been paralyzed by polio, fixes his shoe while a health worker adjusts his leg braces.|
Polio (poliomyelitis) is a highly infectious, viral disease that attacks the nervous system. Frequently, its victims display no symptoms, but about one in 200 infected children suffers from paralysis and sometimes death. Anyone can contract the disease, but children under five years of age are most vulnerable. Timely immunization with today’s safe and effective oral vaccines is the most effective way to prevent infection.
In 1998, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), a partnership among UNICEF, the World Health Organization, Rotary International and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, spearheaded an effort to support country governments to immunize all children against polio in order to halt transmission and free the world of polio.
Thanks in large part to the GPEI, and to an equity-focused agenda that addresses the most underserved communities, polio no longer exists in most of the world today, and the goal of eradication is within reach. Persistent efforts led by the GPEI to immunize children through mass campaigns, known as National Immunization Days (NIDs), have been highly successful to date. However, the ultimate goal of eradication is still to be achieved.
Polio remains active in fewer than 20 countries today, primarily among the most disadvantaged and remote populations for whom its continued existence remains a dangerous threat. Nevertheless, polio “reservoirs,” where the disease remains active, are generally isolated within specific geographic areas and among known populations. Today, only three countries have endemic polio transmission – Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. India was removed from the list of endemic countries in January 2012.
With renewed energy and focus, health experts from UNICEF, its partner organizations and governments are working against the clock to stop transmission in the remaining countries in order to rid the world of polio forever.