Poliovirus Could Be Eliminated by End of 2023

By Gift Briton

The plan to eradicate poliovirus as a global public health threat by the end of 2023 is most likely to be successful, Adian O’Leary, Director- of Polio Eradication at the World Health Organization(WHO) says.

O’Leary notes that WHO in collaboration with other partner organizations have managed to interrupt almost all poliovirus transmissions as it remains endemic in only two countries globally

“Wild poliovirus remains endemic in only two countries- Pakistan and Afghanistan- where the virus transmission is now more geographically restricted than ever before,”  O’Leary says.

Since 1980, WHO has managed to bring down the cases by 99% from 365,000 in 125 endemic countries to only six cases in the two endemic countries globally in 2022.

“In Pakistan for instance, all recent cases are now concentrated in three districts of a single province. Even more importantly, the biodiversity of the virus continues to shrink and decline,” he clarifies. 

In 2020, Pakistan was affected by 11 separate and distinct individual chains of transmission. This was reduced to just four in 2021 and to a single chain in 2022.

“This means that individual virus lines are being successfully knocked out. And we see a very similar situation in Afghanistan, notwithstanding all the humanitarian challenges there with poliovirus at a historic low. So 2023 is very much our year to achieve success,” he further explains.

O’Leary says many people have forgotten how debilitating polio is because they have not seen polio in their regions, noting that the risk remains as long as the virus remains in any part of the world.  

“Very much like COVID-19, as long as we have polio transmission anywhere, potentially everywhere is at risk. And we saw this in a very real way in 2022 when we received reports of detections in London and New York,” he added.

Therefore, to eliminate all the remaining poliovirus transmissions, O’Leary calls on countries and relevant stakeholders to concentrate all efforts on what he termed as “the most consequential geographies”

These are seven subnational areas around the world that feature some of the highest and most densely-populated proportions of children who are either un- or under-vaccinated, and they are also affected by broader humanitarian, complex emergencies, including insecure areas.

These areas include eastern Afghanistan, southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, Tete province and its hinterland in northern Mozambique, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, northern Yemen, northern Nigeria; south-central Somalia.

“The work we do is not just bringing polio drops to under-immunized children but it is also working with other partners to really make sure we bring as broad a range of services and supports to these communities who are most in need,” O’Leary notes.

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