The World Health Organization (WHO) is expected to this week to declare polio a global health emergency. Efforts to eradicate the disease completely have stalled in recent years as demonstrated by a resurgence of the crippling disease in 2011 reported across Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria, with a reported 650 cases around the world. Funding shortfalls are now making it difficult for organizations to stamp out the disease.
“We are really on a tipping point between success and failure,” said Sona Bari, spokeswoman for the Polio Eradication Program at the World Health Organization. Failing to stamp out the disease could mean recent gains are reversed and as many as 200,000 children crippled by polio in the next decade.
A document on polio prepared by the WHO for this week’s World Health Assembly (WHA) says, “Already in the first quarter of 2012, an insufficiency of financing required some emergency eradication activities to be scaled back in 24 at risk countries. In line with the development of the Global Polio Emergency Action Plan 2012-13, a new more efficient strategy is being examined which would combine the eradication of the residual wild poliovirus transmission with the polio endgame strategy.”
The first polio vaccine was developed in the 1950s and a second version — given orally — is credited with reducing cases by more than 99 per cent. These Oral Polio Vaccines (OPV) contain a weakened version of poliovirus, activating an immune response in the body. A vaccinated person transmits the weakened virus to others that also develop antibodies to polio, ultimately stopping transmission of poliovirus in a community.