Eradicating Polio Virus

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Independent commission of experts concluded that Wild Poliovirus type 3 (WPV3) has been eradicated worldwide.

Following the eradication of smallpox and wild poliovirus type 2, this news represents a historic achievement for humanity.

The announcement coincided with the World Polio Day, marked on 24 October.

It also comes three years after a last case of Type 1 polio virus has been reported in 2016 in Nigeria.

“GCC concluded at its meeting last week that wild type 3 polio has been eradicated worldwide,” said professor David Salisbury, Chair of the Global Commission for Certification of Poliomyelitis Eradication (GCC) in Geneva, as he presented the “Certificate of Eradication” to the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Ghebreyesus.

“This wonderful news tells us that polio can be eradicated. Two of the polio virus strains are gone and only type 1 polio remains and that only in Pakistan and Afghanistan,” he added.

There are three individual and immunologically-distinct wild poliovirus strains: wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1), wild poliovirus type 2 (WPV2) and wild poliovirus type 3 (WPV3).

Symptomatically, all three strains are identical, in that they cause irreversible paralysis or even death.

But there are genetic and virologic differences which make these three strains three separate viruses that must each be eradicated individually.

WPV3 is the second strain of the poliovirus to be wiped out, following the certification of the eradication of WPV2 in 2015. The last case of WPV3 was detected in northern Nigeria in 2012.

Since then, the strength and reach of the eradication programme’s global surveillance system has been critical to verify that this strain is truly gone.

Investments in skilled workers, innovative tools and a global network of laboratories have helped determine that no WPV3 exists anywhere in the world, apart from specimens locked in secure containment.

The warning was echoed by the WHO’s Head, Dr Tedros who said “this is only a milestone. We have not reached our destination.

The last mile as we know, is the hardest mile and we must continue with even greater commitment and determination until polio is eradicated.”

Eradicating WPV3 proves that a polio-free world is achievable. Key to success will be the ongoing commitment of the international development community.

The GPEI 2019–2023 Investment Case lays out the impact of investing in polio eradication. The polio eradication efforts have saved the world more than US$27 billion in health costs since 1988.

A sustained polio-free world will generate further US$14 billion in savings by 2050, compared to the cost countries would incur for controlling the virus indefinitely.

The GPEI is a public-private global effort made up of national governments, partners including the World Health Organization, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and a broad range of long-term supporters.

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Timothy Omondi