The widespread fear and dread caused by polio epidemics in the 1950s and early 60s are all but forgotten here in the United States. But many people don’t realize that the polio virus still exists and that epidemics are active in three countries today. On World Polio Day, October 24, the American Academy of Pediatrics joins global immunization advocates worldwide in supporting efforts to eradicate the polio virus.
The October 24 date also marks the birthday of Dr. Jonas Salk, who led the team that developed the first polio vaccine in 1955.
Polio is a vaccine-preventable disease that is more than 99 percent eliminated from the world. If efforts to eradicate the virus fail, it is estimated that more than 10 million children will be paralyzed in the next 40 years.
“The world is fortunate to have vaccines to defend against some of the most feared diseases of childhood, including polio. But there are still barriers preventing us from providing this vital protection in many parts of world, particularly in developing countries,” said AAP President Tom McInerny, MD, FAAP, who has participated in campaigns and awareness events to support global immunization.
Polio currently is endemic in Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. The AAP is working not only in the U.S, but with international pediatric societies and international pediatric leaders, to further the goal of polio eradication. With support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the United Nations Foundation, and in partnership with the International Pediatric Association, the AAP also is pleased to announce that it has made grants to the Royal College of Pediatrics in the UK, the Russian Pediatric Federation, and the Spanish national pediatric society, to help them mobilize support for educating key decision makers about global and domestic immunization issues.
Earlier this year, at the World Health Assembly, 194 member states declared the completion of polio eradication to be a programmatic emergency for global public health. In September, at the United Nations General Assembly, leaders from around the world vowed to capitalize on progress achieved this year and to step up the fight to eradicate the disease.
Globally, there is a funding shortage and other roadblocks that threaten the goal of polio eradication. The AAP is doing its part to encourage continued funding for the essential vaccines to help do away with this devastating disease for good.
The AAP has launched a new global immunization website, which helps pediatricians educate families about the importance of worldwide delivery of vaccines – both for polio, and also for measles, rubella, pneumonia, and severe diarrhea. Thousands of children can be saved from death and disability with the support of donors, advocates and the international health community.
The Academy also will be launching an expanded partnership with the UN Foundation's Shot at Life Campaign, providing educational materials to families to help parents understand why immunizations are important both in the US and abroad.
Dr. McInerny said, “Young families and doctors here in the U.S. may not have seen some of these diseases; yet they are all just a plane ride away. We encourage parents and the healthcare community to take full advantage of the protection afforded by vaccines.”