Eradicating Polio in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Polio has a real possibility of being eradicated worldwide. Efforts to eradicate the virus have proved largely successful, in part thanks to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), launched by the international community in 1988. GPEI is a partnership of governments, private foundations, development banks, humanitarian organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and corporate partners. It is led by the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

The number of new cases has dropped in the past decade, even in countries where the virus has never been eradicated. India was removed from the WHO list of polio endemic countries in February 2012; its last reported case was in January 2011. Bangladesh recovered from an outbreak in 2006 and is considered polio free. In 2003, when polio was confined to only six countries, clerics in one of those countries, Nigeria, banned the vaccine, and as a result, the Nigerian strain spread to 16 countries worldwide, including Angola, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which had previously been declared polio free. GPEI battled new outbreaks in eight additional African countries in 2011 and successfully interrupted transmission in all of them. Today, there are only three countries in the world where the polio virus remains endemic: Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan.

Robert D. Lamb, April Chang, Edgar Chavez, Sadika Hameed, and Kathryn Mixon