Number Of Polio Cases Globally Drops To 1 Per Week; How Do We Get To Zero?
This post was originally produced for Forbes.
The polio virus is in its death throes.
While it has been infinitely more difficult than the optimists hoped it would be 30 years ago, those who said polio couldn’t be eradicated will soon be proven wrong.
In the mid 1980s, there were about 350,000 to 400,000 cases of polio each year around the world, despite the disease having been effectively eradicated throughout the developed world.
In 2014, there were just 359 cases of polio, reflecting a 99.9 percent reduction over 30 years. On average, that number reflected a rate of about seven cases per week. So far, in 2015, the average number of cases per week has dropped to just barely above 1.
We are, however, now in the heat of summer in much of the world, including in Pakistan and Afghanistan where the disease remains active. Polio thrives in the summer months and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, led by Rotary International and its partners the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, the Centers for Disease Control with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is working feverishly to prevent any spread of the disease.
Dr. Hamid Jafari of the WHO praises Rotary’s leadership in the effort to end polio, “The world is closer than ever before to eradicating polio, thanks to the tremendous efforts of Rotarians worldwide. A lasting polio-free world will be Rotary’s gift to all future generations. No child need ever be paralysed by this terrible disease.”
Jafari notes that the work is not yet done, adding, “But to achieve ultimate success, we need the ongoing support of all Rotarians, to push the effort across the finish line.”
Despite the progress, there are a variety of important questions that remain in trying to understand how this virus will be eradicated once and for all.
A recent outbreak of circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus in Madagascar with eight reported cases so far, demonstrates the challenge. As immunization rates fall in countries where the disease has not been a threat in years, rare cases of vaccine-derived polio can spread. A shift away from the oral polio vaccine to the injected inactivated vaccine used in the developed world for more than a generation appears to be key. Making the switch isn’t going to be easy.
On Wednesday, July 15, 2015 at 11:00 AM Eastern, Dr. Jafari and his colleague Dr. John Sever, the Vice Chair of Rotary International’s PolioPlus Program, will join me for a live discussion about the efforts to finally put an end to polio in 2015. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.
More about the World Health Organization:
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) is spearheaded by national governments, Rotary International, the World Health Organization (WHO), the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF, and supported by partners such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Since its launch in 1988, the GPEI has reduced the number of polio cases by 99%, from 350,000 annual cases in more than 125 endemic countries. to 3 endemic countries in 2015.
More about Rotary International:
Rotary brings together a global network of volunteer leaders dedicated to tackling the world’s most pressing humanitarian challenges. Rotary connects 1.2 million members of more than 34,000 Rotary clubs in over 200 countries and geographical areas. Their work improves lives at both the local and international levels, from helping families in need in their own communities to working toward a polio-free world. In 1988, Rotary was joined by the WHO, UNICEF and the CDC to launch the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
Hamid Jafari, WHO
Dr. Jafari is currently the Director, Global Polio Eradication Operations and Research at WHO, Headquarters, Geneva. Before this appointment in March 2012, Dr. Jafari served as the Project Manager of World Health Organization’s National Polio Surveillance Project in India (2007-2012). As Project Manager of NPSP, he was the main technical advisor to the Government of India in the implementation of the nation’s large scale polio eradication, measles control and routine immunization activities and directed WHO’s extensive network of more than 2000 field staff.
Before his assignment in India, Dr. Jafari served as Director of the Global Immunization Division at the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), Atlanta, USA. He has also served as the Medical Officer for Polio Eradication in the Regional Office of WHO for Eastern Mediterranean on assignment from CDC.
Dr. Jafari obtained his MBBS degree from Sind Medical College, Karachi University. He completed his residency training in Pediatrics at Dartmouth Medical School and his Pediatric Infectious Disease fellowship training at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas. He has been certified by the American Board of Pediatrics in the sub-specialty of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. Dr. Jafari also completed a research fellowship at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Jafari has published over 80 scientific papers and book chapters on polio eradication and other vaccine-preventable diseases.
Dr. John L. Sever is Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Immunology, Microbiology and Tropical Medicine at the George Washington University, Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Previously he served as Chief of Infectious Diseases Research, National Institute of Neurological and Communicative Diseases and Stroke at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. He now serves on the Institutional Review Boards of the Pediatric Central IRB of the National Cancer Institute, NIH, The HQ US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command IRB and the Chesapeake IRB.
He received a B.A. degree from the University of Chicago, and B.S., M.S., M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from Northwestern University. Dr. Sever has taught at the medical schools of Northwestern, Georgetown, and the George Washington Universities. He has been a medical advisor or consultant for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the March of Dimes, and Boy Scouts and has published over 600 scientific papers. He has been president of several medical research societies and has served on the editorial boards of several medical research journals.
A Rotarian since 1964, he has served Rotary as Club President, District Governor, Assembly Instructor, Legislative Council Member, Committee Member and Chairman. A long-term member of the 3-H and Programs Committee of The Rotary Foundation, Dr. Sever has monitored and advised on the development of Rotary’s PolioPlus Program, and has visited numerous projects to help assess the impact of Rotary’s support. As the Vice Chair of the International PolioPlus Committee, Dr. Sever not only helps to develop implementation policies but also articulates Rotary’s support for global polio eradication. As a member of the United States Rotary Polio Eradication Advocacy Task Force he has testified before the U.S. Congress in support of funding for polio eradication. He has also met with many Senators and Representatives to support international polio immunization programs. He has represented Rotary at meetings of WHO, UNICEF and the CDC. He is actively involved in Rotary Programs for Safe Blood and HIV/AIDS in India and Africa.
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