Poliomyelitis, or polio, is a paralyzing and potentially fatal infectious disease caused by the poliovirus. Poliovirus invades the central nervous system and can cause total paralysis in hours. It can affect people of any age, but children under five are especially at risk. Polio can be prevented by vaccines, but it is not curable once someone is infected.
In 1988, the World Health Assembly vowed to eradicate polio, a disease responsible for more than 350,000 cases of childhood paralysis a year across 125 countries.
USAID’s contributions helped secure the eradication of wild polio in the Americas in 1994, the Western Pacific in 2000, Europe in 2002, South East Asia in 2014, and—most recently this year—Africa. In mid-August Africa was certified wild polio-free after 4 years of no new cases. Nigeria was the last country to meet the rigorous standards of certification, joining 46 countries in the region to celebrate this historic public health milestone.
Today polio cases have been reduced by 99.9 percent, and only Afghanistan and Pakistan continue to experience endemic cases of polio.
In many countries, the road to polio eradication has not been easy. Protracted conflict, misinformation, displaced populations, remote communities, and other challenges have stalled—and continue to stall—the efforts of countries trying to combat the virus. Nonetheless, if residual transmission of the virus is to be stopped, a sustained and evolving response must continue. Only through the unwavering dedication, creative problem solving, and incredible hard work of local communities, national governments, and global partners alike has a polio-free world moved within reach.
In partnership with these countless health workers, community leaders, and volunteers who have never lost sight of reaching every last child, USAID’s support towards global polio eradication has helped ensure over 400 million children are vaccinated against polio each year. Today, nearly 19 million people are walking who would have otherwise been paralyzed and more than 1.5 million people are alive who would otherwise have died from polio.
This year, 2020, is a notable one to celebrate World Polio Day, with the Africa region certified wild polio-free even as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt essential health care worldwide, including routine immunization programs. Moving forward, USAID and its partners plan to use the lessons learned and infrastructure built on the road to polio eradication to inform our response to the current pandemic and future infectious disease outbreaks.