Poliomyelitis is a disfiguring and highly infectious viral disease, which primarily affects  young children and can cause permanent paralysis.

Polio was once much more common but has been eliminated in the United States, with the last reported case of polio in 1994.  Even before, epidemics had been virtually eliminated since the 60s.   This was due to the development of the first polio vaccine by Dr. Jonas Salk in 1953 and the subsequent widespread administration.  The efforts to develop such a vaccine date back to 1936 under the auspices of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose paralysis is believed to be the result of childhood polio infection.

In spite of worldwide efforts by various national governments, complete elimination of polio only came within reach in the 2000s, when 36 Western Pacific countries, including China and Australia were declared polio free, Europe in 2002 and India in 2012.  Once a country reports no new cases of polio for 2 years, the country is considered to be polio free.  Otherwise, it is considered endemic – meaning that a certain level of infection is maintained in a population without the need for external inputs (like a polio carrier flying in to the country).

Poliovirus spreads from person-to-person by oral-fecal transmission (ie unwashed hands touching mouth/food) or by sharing of contaminated water or food.  This leaves areas with poor sanitation and low vaccination rates especially susceptible to polio outbreaks.

In 2008, polio remained endemic in only 3 nations – Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Once these last three nations are polio-free, we no longer have to worry about outbreaks anywhere in the world.

Stopping polio for good will be a seminal achievement, and may just be the biggest moral issue of our time.  A highly infectious but preventable disease that causes high rates of fatality in children and can cause severe disability in the survivors, with a vaccine available since 1953 that is increasingly cheaper and improving, still affects the weakest amongst us in the poorest places on earth.  The cost of vaccination costs as little as 60 cents per person.

Rotary International has been the effort to eradicate polio since 1979, helping immunize 2.5 billion children against polio in 122 countries.

Here is a TED video about the status of polio eradication.  Please enjoy and feel free to comment.

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