Efforts are successfully progressing in the containment and eradication of the poliovirus in 2023. Currently, there are only eleven confirmed cases of wild type 1 poliovirus infections worldwide, with main concentrations in Pakistan and Afghanistan. While this number does not account for mutated versions of the virus that have emerged after oral polio vaccination, it is significantly lower than the 176 cases reported in 2019 and the 140 cases in 2020. Moreover, there have been six and thirty cases in the past two years respectively, indicating that the figure for 2023 is not an anomaly. Encouragingly, the total number of polio cases worldwide has plummeted by over 99.9% since 1979, when an estimated 350,000 cases were reported. This remarkable progress suggests that the complete eradication of the virus is within reach, thanks to science-based approaches and international collaboration for the benefit of humanity.
Established in 1988, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) is spearheading the promotion of science-based approaches and international cooperation in this fight against polio. Led by governments worldwide, the GPEI has partnered with six major organizations: the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Gavi, the vaccine alliance. Rotary International, a key player in polio control efforts since 1979, played a pivotal role in the establishment of the GPEI. Through their global initiative called PolioPlus, Rotary International has raised over $2.6 billion to support polio control and eradication. Furthermore, they have mobilized more than 1.4 million volunteers from Rotary and Rotaract clubs across more than 200 countries.
Polio vaccines have been a crucial weapon in the fight against this disease. Over the past 35 years, nearly three billion children have received the oral polio vaccine (OPV), effectively preventing more than 20 million cases of paralysis. The profound impact of polio vaccines and control efforts cannot be understated.Significant progress has been made in recent decades in eradicating wild polioviruses. Currently, only Type 1 is still circulating globally, as Type 2 was declared eradicated in 2015 and Type 3 in 2019. However, Type 1 is now limited to Eastern Afghanistan and Northwest Pakistan. This positive development means that five out of six regions of the World Health Organization (WHO), representing over 90% of the world's population, are now free from poliovirus.
The Global Director of Polio Eradication at UNICEF is optimistic that these remaining cases of Type 1 poliovirus can be eliminated by the end of the upcoming year, though slightly missing the original deadline of this year. Nonetheless, there remains an ongoing challenge posed by vaccine-derived polioviruses, which emerge as strains that have mutated from the original weakened virus found in the oral polio vaccine (OPV). These mutant strains can reproduce and become strong enough to cause polio in others. To mitigate this risk, control efforts often shift to utilizing the injected inactivated polio vaccine.
Regions with low vaccination rates and health system challenges have reported cases of vaccine-derived polio. In addition to these obstacles, efforts to control polio have faced resistance due to anti-vaccination propaganda and challenging environments. However, despite these challenges, progress has been steady. Importantly, the endeavors to control polio have not only played a crucial role in reducing the prevalence of the disease but have also contributed to advancements in hygiene, sanitation, healthcare systems, and poverty reduction.
This comprehensive approach demonstrates the benefits of adhering to scientific principles and working collaboratively for the betterment of humanity.