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PAHO pleased with progress towards eradicating polio

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

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WASHINGTON, United States (CMC) – The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) says it will on Thursday, celebrate 25 years of being certified polio-free in the Caribbean and the wider Americas.

“There is no cure for polio, but it's preventable with vaccination. This key achievement is the result of many factors to keep the risk of recirculation of the virus at bay: countries' commitment to immunization, health workers' efforts to vaccinate 95 per cent of the children in every corner of the continent, maintaining high coverage rates over the years, and having strong surveillance,” said Dr Cuauhtemoc Ruiz Matus, head of Immunizations at PAHO.

In 1975, before there was widespread and systematic vaccination in the Americas, PAHO said nearly 6,000 cases of paralytic polio were reported in the region.

But by 1991, the last six cases were detected and three years later, PAHO said the disease was formally declared eliminated from the region by an international commission, adding that progress in vaccinating against polio has continued.

PAHO said only Pakistan and Afghanistan are now reporting cases, adding that the “the world is getting closer to eradication.”

PAHO said vaccination coverage in children under the age of one year, rose from 25 per cent in 1978 to more than 80 per cent in 1993 and at least eight out of 10 children were vaccinated, “and thanks to herd immunity from the oral vaccine, collective protection was guaranteed”.

Almost a decade later, in 1985, PAHO said it proposed the goal of interrupting the transmission of wild poliovirus in the Americas, including the Caribbean, to its member states.

It said the countries agreed and made the commitment, “taking sustainable actions to mobilise the population and strategic partners like churches and civil society organisations.

“Partner agencies and other organizations multiplied their efforts, offering technical cooperation and mobilising resources to support the countries┤ efforts,” PAHO said, adding that 'currently, the children of the Americas have guaranteed access to vaccines that are free, safe and high-quality.

“Vaccination has been considered a social good, with universal and equal access to everyone,” PAHO said, adding that it helps make vaccination sustainable through its Revolving Fund, which most Latin America and Caribbean countries use to purchase the vaccines, needles and other supplies used by the immunization programmes.

“We are currently in the final phase of polio eradication – the endgame – where only one out of three wild polioviruses are still active. Countries should maintain vaccination coverage at or above 95 per cent and strengthen epidemiological surveillance.

“As long as even one child anywhere is infected with polio, all children everywhere are at risk of getting the disease if they're not vaccinated,” said Dr Ruiz, adding that “a polio-free world is possible, and we are so close to achieving it.”

“If polio is not eradicated, there could be a resurgence of the disease, which could result in the appearance of up to 200,000 new cases worldwide each year within 10 years,” PAHO warned, noting that poliomyelitis was the second vaccine-preventable disease to be eliminated from the Americas (1994), preceded by the regional eradication of smallpox (1971).


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