The fight against polio
Four-year-old Mohammad Shahadat lives with his parents and older sister Sanaa in Nahal, a rural village in Ghaziabad district, east of Delhi. His father is a day labourer and the family is very poor.
When Shahadat was 2, he was infected with polio and his whole body was paralysed for a month. Polio is a highly infectious disease that attacks the nervous system. Anyone can contract the disease, but children under five years of age are most vulnerable. It can cause lifelong paralysis and even death.
Shahadat recovered movement in his left leg, but will never be able to use his right leg again. He has difficulty walking and relies on a wooden walking frame to move around. His mother worries about how his disability will affect him when he grows up.
Eradicating this debilitating disease is an international public health priority. More than 2.5 billion children in 200 countries have been immunised against polio since the inception of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, which is spearheaded by UNICEF and three partner organizations. As a result of an unprecedented global effort involving local and international partners, cases of paralytic polio have decreased by over 99 per cent, from an estimated 350,000 cases in 1988, to 650 confirmed cases in 2011.
Still, the polio threat remains. The viral nature of the disease is such that failure to eradicate it could lead, within a decade, to as many as 200,000 paralysed children a year worldwide.
According to the Independent Monitoring Board on progress with global polio eradication, comprised of global experts from a variety of fields, there are still some 2.7 million children who have never been reached with a single polio vaccine. Funding gaps have forced the cancellation or scaling back of critical vaccination activities in 24 high-risk countries.
In response, UNICEF and its Global Polio Eradication Initiative partners are shifting eradication efforts into emergency mode, working to boost vaccination coverage in Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the three remaining polio endemic countries.
Polio eradication will not be achieved until children everywhere are fully immunised against polio, and that means fully funding the global eradication effort to reach all children, especially the hardest to reach.
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