WORLD Polio Day, October 24, marks a countdown to the worldwide eradication of polio with identified cases of polio falling by 99 per cent since 1988.
On World Polio Day, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, of which UNICEF is a member, joins with the international community in celebrating a year since India was officially declared polio-free, and the lowest every number of recorded polio infections.
“To rid the world of polio by the forecast date of 2018, our ongoing humanitarian efforts to reach every child with polio vaccine need to remain focused, even where there have been challenges like those faced in the Middle East this year,” UNICEF Australia’s Chief Executive Norman Gillespie said.
Despite ongoing conflict, violence and displacement across Iraq, a polio campaign in August succeeded in reaching 3.75 million children under 5 years of age and halting a resurgence of polio in a region previously considered polio-free.
“This campaign represents a real success for children,” Dr Gillespie said. “If we can deliver on such scale in a country enduring seemingly ongoing crises, a successful polio immunisation campaign spreads hope and shows the world that humanitarian work can achieve its goals.”
Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are the last three remaining battlefronts for polio eradication.
“The key to global polio eradication is in the hands of Pakistan,” UNICEF’s Regional Polio Co-ordinator for South Asia, Rod Curtis, said.
“In 1988, when the global polio eradication initiative was launched, 350,000 children were being paralysed by polio in 128 countries worldwide. This year, only 247 children worldwide have contracted polio, but 210 of them – more than 85 per cent – are from Pakistan.”
“Nigeria, with just six confirmed cases earlier this year, is on the brink of stopping the virus, paving the way for a polio-free Africa,” Mr Curtis said.
Afghanistan has also been affected by the challenges to the safe delivery of polio programs in Pakistan, with passage between the two countries identified as a disease pathway.
Since the Global Polio Eradication Initiative launched in 1998, 11 million childhood polio-related deaths and disability have been prevented and countries, including Australia, have enjoyed several generations of being polio-free.
Ending polio would end all related deaths, deformity and disabilities caused by the virus.