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Polio Free

Ten Facts on Polio Eradication

WHO - November 2011

Polio was once a disease feared worldwide, striking suddenly and paralysing mainly children for life. WHO is a partner in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, the largest private-public partnership for health, which has reduced polio by 99%. Polio now survives only among the world's poorest and most marginalized communities, where it stalks the most vulnerable children. The Initiative's goal is to reach every last child with polio vaccine and ensure a polio-free world for future generations.


An Indian child, whose leg has been paralysed by polio, leans on his staff and looks on as a group of children play a ball game in front of the Taj Mahal.
Sephi Bergerson

1. Polio continues to paralyse children

While polio is a distant memory in most of the world, the disease still exists in some places and mainly affects children under five. One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis (usually in the legs). Among those paralysed, 5% to 10% die when their breathing muscles become immobilized.



Indian children run down the street, demonstrating what the Global Polio Eradication Initiative aims to achieve: healthy, polio-free children.
UNICEF/Gaurav Osan

2. We are 99% of the way to eradicating polio globally

In 1988, when the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was formed, polio paralysed more than 350 000 people a year. Since that time, polio case numbers have decreased by more than 99%.




A Pakistani mother, holding her small child.
WHO/Anna-Lea Kahn

3. There are just four countries which have never stopped transmission of polio

The four countries are Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan. They face a range of challenges such as insecurity, weak health systems and poor sanitation. Polio can spread from these 'endemic' countries to infect children in other countries with less-than-adequate vaccination.



A group of Afghan children proudly show off their finger-tips which have been marked with indelible ink. These markings indicate that they have been vaccinated against polio.
WHO/Sigrun Roesel

4. Unlike most diseases, polio can be completely eradicated

There are three strains of wild poliovirus, none of which can survive for long periods outside of the human body. If the virus cannot find an unvaccinated person to infect, it will die out. Type 2 wild poliovirus was eradicated in 1999.



Vials of oral polio vaccine
WHO/Sigrun Roesel

5. Cheap and effective vaccines are available to prevent polio

There are two forms of vaccine available to ward off polio - oral polio vaccine (OPV) and inactivated polio vaccine (IPV). Because OPV is an oral vaccine, it can be administered by anyone, even volunteers. One dose of OPV can cost as little as 11 US cents.



Three health workers look at a set of plans.
WHO/Chris Black

6. The global effort to eradicate polio is the largest public-private partnership for public health

In fact, it is the largest-ever peacetime mobilization of people. It involves four spearheading partner organizations (WHO, Rotary International, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and UNICEF), polio-affected and donor governments, private foundations, development banks, humanitarian and non-governmental organizations, corporate partners and more than 20 million volunteers.



A young boy receives oral polio vaccine.
Rotary International/Richard Wainwright

7. Large-scale vaccination rounds help rapidly boost immunity

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative assists countries in carrying out surveillance for polio and large-scale vaccination rounds. In just one round of the national immunization days in India there are 640 000 vaccination booths, 2.3 million vaccinators, 200 million doses of vaccine, 6.3 million ice packs, 191 million homes visited and 172 million children immunized.



A health worker, carrying a cold box containing oral polio vaccine, visits a remote village in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
WHO/Christine Lamoureux

8. Every child must be vaccinated to eradicate polio

This includes those living in the most remote and/or underserved places on the planet. 'Days of Tranquility' are negotiated so that vaccination teams can reach children living in conflict zones. All manner of transport is used – from donkeys to motorbikes to helicopters – to reach children in remote areas or difficult terrain.



A Nigerian health worker, a mother and a child. In the foreground is a sharps disposals box for measles vaccine and a cold box carrying oral polio vaccine.
WHO/Thomas Moran

9. Polio-funded staff, strategies and resources are also used to advance other health initiatives

Strategies to find and map every child can be applied to other public health initiatives. While a vaccination team is in a remote village, they can, for little additional cost, provide other health interventions while they are there. For example, vitamin A has been given alongside polio campaigns. Since vitamin A gives a general boost to immunity, it allows children to fend off a range of infections, this has averted more than 1.2 million deaths.



Luis Fermin Tenoria and his parents after his leg was paralysed by polio.
WHO/Armando Waak

10. We can eradicate polio

More than 20 years ago, this little boy was the last child to be paralysed by polio in the WHO Region of the Americas. The WHO Western Pacific Region was declared polio free in 2000 and the WHO European Region in 2002. The world could be freed of the threat of polio - with everyone's commitment, from parent to government worker and political leader to the international community.

Polio Free


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