Health Experts Confirm Polio is on Verge of Extinction in Pakistan and Afghanistan

For decades, polio has been a formidable adversary, causing paralysis and death among children worldwide. However, concerted global efforts have brought us to the brink of victory in eradicating this debilitating disease. With polio now confined to isolated pockets in Pakistan and Afghanistan, experts are optimistic that the endgame is within reach.

During a recent virtual briefing commemorating a decade since India achieved polio-free status in March 2014, experts applauded the advancements in addressing this disease, which is prone to outbreaks.

Dr. Ananda Bandyopadhyay, deputy director of polio technology, research, and analytics at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, emphasized the progress, stating that while polio remains endemic in Pakistan and Afghanistan, it is now confined to very few regions within these countries.

He described the virus as being “on its last legs” within these remaining areas.

In Pakistan, there have been two reported cases of wild poliovirus this year, down from six in 2023. Meanwhile, Afghanistan has not reported any cases this year, compared to six cases last year.

Experts attribute this progress to ongoing vaccination efforts, which have pushed polio to the brink of extinction.

Hamid Jafari, director of polio eradication for the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region, highlighted that until 2020, approximately 13 strains of wild poliovirus were circulating across neighboring countries. However, since then, only two strains remain, primarily in southern parts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan.

Despite clearing historic reservoirs of the virus in both countries, challenges remain in reaching remote populations, complicating vaccination efforts.

Jafari noted that Pakistan faces additional challenges due to militancy, particularly in the remaining areas where the virus persists.

Lessons learned from India’s successful polio eradication efforts have been applied in Nigeria, leading to its declaration as polio-free in June 2020. Many of these strategies have also been incorporated into programs in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Polio vaccine with syringe for injection

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports a more than 99% decline in wild poliovirus cases since 1988, largely due to the efforts of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, supported by various organizations including WHO, UNICEF, Rotary International, the US CDC, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Jay Wenger, director of the polio program at the Gates Foundation, emphasized the importance of sustaining global efforts against polio, stressing that as long as polio exists anywhere, it poses a threat everywhere.

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