Ending polio worldwide within reach

Two years after India was declared polio-free, the rest of the world looks set to follow its lead

Once the world’s most polio-ridden country, India’s announcement of eradication in 2014, when Positive News reported on it, was a significant milestone in the global effort to defeat the virus.

Officials hope to see the disease wiped out worldwide before the end of 2016. Their secret weapon: a new vaccine, already used in more than 150 countries, and which health workers say is safer and more effective than earlier versions.

“Never before in the history of vaccines have we collaborated on this scale this quickly,” declared former US National Immunization Program director Walter Orenstein in April.

The new vaccine is a stripped-down version of past polio vaccines. It uses less live polio virus, reducing the chance of accidental infection – a rare occurrence, but a real concern given the scale of global eradication efforts.

We were very close in the last decade. This time, we hope we’re not going to miss the opportunity

In 1988, there were 350,000 polio cases; last year just 74. The only countries with polio outbreaks in 2015 were Afghanistan and Pakistan, where new campaigns are also spurring the drive towards eradication. “We were very close in the last decade,” Aziz Memon, of Rotary International’s PolioPlus campaign, told reporters. “This time, we hope we’re not going to miss the opportunity.”