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Global Efforts Push Polio to the Brink of Extinction: Experts Optimistic for Eradication Soon

For decades, polio has loomed as a significant threat, causing widespread suffering and claiming lives, especially among children. Yet, recent strides in global cooperation and vaccination campaigns have positioned us on the cusp of eradicating this once-debilitating disease. With polio now restricted to isolated regions in Pakistan and Afghanistan, experts are cautiously optimistic about the prospect of its elimination.

Global Efforts Push Polio to the Brink of Extinction: Experts Optimistic for Eradication Soon

During a virtual briefing commemorating a decade since India achieved polio-free status in March 2014, experts celebrated the progress made in combating this disease, notorious for its potential to trigger outbreaks.

Dr. Ananda Bandyopadhyay, Deputy Director of Polio Technology, Research, and Analytics at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, hailed the advancements, noting that while polio persists in Pakistan and Afghanistan, its reach has significantly diminished, confined to only a few pockets within these nations.

Describing the virus as being “on its last legs” within these remaining areas, Dr. Bandyopadhyay’s optimism is bolstered by recent statistics. Pakistan has reported only two cases of wild poliovirus this year, down from six in 2023, while Afghanistan has reported none, compared to six cases last year.

The progress is attributed to relentless vaccination campaigns, which have brought polio to the brink of extinction. Hamid Jafari, Director of Polio Eradication for the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region, highlighted the substantial reduction in circulating poliovirus strains since 2020, leaving only two strains primarily in southern parts of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and eastern Afghanistan.

Despite historic strides, challenges persist in reaching remote populations, particularly in areas plagued by militancy, as seen in Pakistan. However, lessons gleaned from successful polio eradication in India have been applied in Nigeria, leading to its declaration as polio-free in June 2020. These strategies are now being implemented in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports a staggering 99% decline in wild poliovirus cases since 1988, underscoring the effectiveness of concerted global efforts under the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, supported by WHO, UNICEF, Rotary International, the US CDC, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Jay Wenger, Director of the Polio Program at the Gates Foundation, stressed the importance of sustaining global efforts, cautioning that as long as polio persists anywhere, it remains a threat everywhere.

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With concerted global efforts and continued vaccination campaigns, experts remain hopeful that the endgame for polio eradication is within reach, paving the way for a polio-free world in the near future.

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