Seventy years ago polio emerged in the world. When it was first detected in Britain in 1947, the government made a decision to vaccinate every child against polio – even the disabled.
Today, polio is rare, but not by accident. In 2014, the World Health Organisation declared the polio epidemic over worldwide, after almost eradicating the disease in 1988. But the threat of polio remains. Over the past few years, a resurgent case of polio has appeared in Africa, led by Guinea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria, which have all not yet seen a new outbreak in three years. This outbreak has already killed 40 people and so far 19 people have had the polio vaccination.
The battle against polio was pioneered with a huge campaign that targeted children across the world. But of all the diseases to be eradicated, polio is still the one that has not yet been defeated.
While polio is being controlled worldwide with a combination of vaccines, it is happening at a high pace in certain places – and we have seen this for many diseases as well, some of which have been extinct for centuries.
Most of the new cases of polio are in children in Africa who are too young to be fully vaccinated.
The problem is that even in the countries where polio is not spreading, neither of the two main vaccines used to contain the disease (inactivated poliovirus and oral poliovirus) has enough vaccine in stock to serve all the people who need it. With high demand, there is not enough vaccine to make progress to immunising the required number of children. The limited vaccine supply and the rates of late vaccination are partly responsible for the failure to achieve the 2020 goal to end polio.
Polio by the numbers
Polio is a disease that attacks the nervous system, which inhibits the ability of the body to control functions of the lungs, heart, gastrointestinal tract and bladder. In some cases, it is fatal, especially for young children. The most severe form of the disease can cause paralysis, which can result in suffocation.
Polio covers a number of other diseases, such as infection with rubella, rhinotracheitis, acute flaccid myelitis, meningitis, encephalitis, nephrotic syndrome, neuroblastoma, rheumatoid arthritis, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, epithelial ovarian cancer, Guillain-Barré syndrome, renal glomerulonephritis, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, meningococcal disease, leukaemia, lymphoma, and juvenile spondylitis.
I was the first in my family to get polio immunised in Nigeria, but I was about a month late.
In 2000, the British Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya was the first place to be polio-free.
In 2004, the Pandemic and Newberger Viral Forms (PNVR) specifically caused hundreds of deaths, mostly in children. With this virus comes a variety of severe immune reactions and dysautonomia. Since it was introduced into the wild by contact between animals and people in 1992, it has caused about 35,000 outbreaks of polio, the majority in Asia and Africa. Since 2004, the same kind of virus has been isolated from wild birds in much of Europe, and so a significant part of the world is under threat.
In 1998, the Thai Forest Camp in Laos was declared to be the first place to be free of polio.
In 2011, the Indian River in South Africa was declared to be free of polio.
Polio by the numbers
There were 245 outbreaks and 150,000 cases of polio in 2013.
According to WHO, a child is at risk of polio every 15 seconds worldwide, or 750,000.
Polio is very contagious. Children up to six months of age can be infected by their mother’s oral poliovirus. After that, it spreads through tears and sniffles, and women’s breast milk. With a vaccination, only 30% of the infected person is affected.
I was the first in my family to get polio immunised in Nigeria, but I was about a month late. I wish that our parents understood the value of the vaccination and that they had been vaccinated themselves. Now I am grateful that they did not vaccinate me.
There is no safe vaccine in the world today. I believe that vaccination is my great reward for always believing in myself.
The best way to end the polio virus is to produce a vaccine that can be used as the backup against any other diseases. We have so much in our common with the people in the village who are getting attacked.