Today, polio is one step closer to being a page in our children’s history books. The World Health Organization has officially removed India from the polio endemic list, leaving only Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. On January 13, we marked the one-year anniversary of no new cases of polio in India. This is major milestone for the country, which had the highest number of polio cases in 2009.
It is appropriate that I’m at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week learning about their global health work, including their efforts to eradicate polio. In December, the CDC activated its Emergency Operations Center for 18-24 months to support the final effort to eradicate the disease.
Why is this a public health emergency? Think about this fact – more than one billion people travel between countries every year making everyone connected and leaving no one isolated. Polio, like other diseases, isn’t confined to one region or country. It can travel without a passport.
In the last six months, polio was imported from Pakistan to China and remained active in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
A recent study concluded that polio eradication would save $40-50 billion by 2035. More importantly, without eradication, every year, polio could disable or kill more than 100,000 children.
According to Dr. Rebecca Martin, Director of the Global Immunization Division at the CDC, eradicating a disease will save countries 10-20%, which is similar to the level of funding for primary school education.
She also added that while the last mile is so close, it is the hardest to reach and is the most expensive to complete.
In January, the WHO Executive Board put forward a resolution asking its members to make polio eradication a priority and a public health emergency that will be considered at the World Health Assembly in May 2012.
Read more about vaccine-preventable diseases, including polio eradication here: shotatlife.org.