Polio is a highly infectious viral disease that it invades the nervous system, and can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours. The virus is transmitted from person-to-person through ingestion of infected fecal matter. Following infection, the virus is shed intermittently in excrement for several weeks with little or no symptoms in majority of cases. The initial symptoms of poliomyelitis include fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, neck stiffness and pain in the limbs.
In 1988, when WHO and partners established the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, aiming to eradicate polio, the disease was paralysing over 1000 children per day and was active in all countries of the Region. The African Region has not had wild polio cases in over a year.
Factors that have contributed to the progress in polio eradication in the Region inlcude:
Commitment of political leaders
Implementation of intensive surveillance activities in all countries of the Region
Polio laboratory network made up of 16 laboratories providing critical information, including genetic sequencing data
Innovative approaches in social mobilization and communication to overcome misconceptions and rumours
Cross-border collaboration and the implementation of synchronized immunization campaigns across large numbers of countries simultaneously
Use of improved vaccines and new technologies to improve vaccination coverage
World Polio Day was established by Rotary International over a decade ago to commemorate the birth of Jonas Salk, who led the first team to develop a vaccine against poliomyelitis. Use of this inactivated poliovirus vaccine and subsequent widespread use of the oral poliovirus, developed by Albert Sabin, led to the establishment of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) in 1988. As of 2013, GPEI had reduced polio worldwide by 99%.
Polio is a crippling and potentially fatal infectious disease. There is no cure, but there are safe and effective vaccines. Polio can be prevented through immunization. Polio vaccine, given multiple times, almost always protects a child for life. The strategy to eradicate polio is therefore based on preventing infection by immunizing every child until transmission stops and the world is polio-free.