UNICEF cites ‘dramatic’ progress against polio, urges efforts towards zero cases

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UNITED NATIONS, Oct 24 (APP): Never before in the history of polio have so few children in so few countries contracted the crippling virus but “we can not rest until the number of cases is zero,” a senior UNICEF official said on World Polio Day.
“Progress to end polio is real and dramatic, with now just two countries in the world where the wild polio virus has never been interrupted: Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Peter Crowley, head of the Polio Unit at UNICEF, said in A statement.
“But and it’s a big but until all children everywhere are consistently and routinely immunized against polio, the threat remains. We cannot let down our guard; we have to keep going until there is not a single child anywhere who remains unvaccinated,”he declared.
According to UNICEF, there have been 51 cases of wild polio virus globally since the beginning of 2015, compared with 242 wild polio cases for 2014.
Nigeria was removed from the list of polio endemic countries last month, having successfully interrupted transmission of wild poliovirus.
Such an achievement has encouraged countries in the African region to get closer to being certified polio-free, UNICEF said.
Moreover, in India there have been no cases of polio-induced paralysis for four years, though thousands of young patients once suffered from such paralysis.
These successes are a result of political will and government leadership in affected countries; the strong mobilization and engagement of communities; the courage and commitment of front-line workers; and the combined, coordinated efforts of the partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, Rotary International, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and UNICEF, the agency said.
As part of its contribution to this Initiative, UNICEF said it delivered 1.7 billion doses of vaccine in 2014 and supported the training of tens of thousands of front-line workers in communities from Karachi in Pakistan to Kano state in Nigeria, helping to build trust in the vaccine among parents and communities.
Other success factors have been the integration of additional life-saving interventions for children such as routine immunization, nutrition, handwashing with soap, and breastfeeding, into polio campaigns, particularly in the most under-served and high-risk areas.
Despite this progress, recent vaccine-derived poliovirus outbreaks in countries like Lao-PDR, Ukraine, Guinea and Madagascar have underscored the risks that many countries continue to face due to low routine immunization coverage.
These outbreaks serve as a reminder of the vital need for intensified efforts to strengthen routine immunization systems and address disparities in children’s access to basic health services. In Ukraine, for example, fewer than 14 per cent of children are immunized against polio.
“We aim to bring a global halt to polio transmission by this time next year, but the only way to do this is for countries with low vaccination dates to re-double their efforts to reach every child, wherever they are and no matter how hard this may be,” Crowley said.