Today is World Polio Day so I thought I’d throw together this post to give you an update on where we are in the global eradication effort. 2012 has been a good year so far- as the global public health system has made some real progress. This year we’re down to only 3 countries with cases (Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan) and only 200 cases. We’re closer than ever to global eradication of this nasty disease. The world was about this close to eliminating polio in the 2000′s, but political strife and other issues in West Africa turned the tide and set the eradication clock back.
A couple billion kids around the world have been vaccinated against polio in the last decades - resulting in a 99% decrease in global polio cases. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been adding support to the new push to eradicate by working with the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
You might wonder why public health was able to get rid of Smallpox but not Polio (yet). It’s basically because Polio is spread through via the “fecal-oral” route. That means that folks shed the virus in feces… and other people catch the disease through contaminated water (or food). That means that we need to use mass vaccination efforts to prevent more cases rather than the more cost effective and efficient “ring vaccination” approach that we used to eradicate Smallpox. With Smallpox… we could track down cases quickly and vaccinate contacts and villages to prevent the spread- since it went person to person.
Looking for a book to read about one of public health’s biggest achievements? You’ll enjoy a new book written by Dr. Bill Foege called House on Fire: The Fight to Eradicate Smallpox.