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Kids' Health Issues: 2014

Wiping Out Polio

5 Global Kids’ Health Issues

Huge progress has been made in many critical areas involving children’s health. Yet there is still important work to be done, and most of it doesn’t involve expensive new drugs or surgical procedures. Instead, it’s about the basics that most of us take for granted. We have identified 5 issues that desperately need the world’s attention for the sake of children and their families, and suggest some ways that you and your family can help.

Wiping Out Polio

To many of us, polio is a distant memory — if we remember it at all. After all, since the polio vaccine was introduced in 1955, cases plummeted and the disease was declared eliminated in the Unites States in 1979. Global immunization was so successful that polio was about to join smallpox as the only infectious diseases to have been wiped out.

But in three countries — Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan — polio has never been wiped out. Nigerian cases have dropped 65% this year and the rate of immunization rose by 29%. More problematic are vaccination efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan — in addition to trying to reach villages in remote locations, workers have encountered violence and resistance. The Taliban, claiming the vaccines are part of a Western plot against Muslims, have attacked and killed vaccination workers in both countries.

60 cents is the cost of protecting one child from polio.

Now, cases of polio have been reported in Syria, with health experts attributing missed vaccinations to the ongoing civil war (immunization rates dropped from 90% in 2010 to 68% in 2012). Health officials are scrambling to get vaccines to Syrian children and others in the Middle East. The virus strain causing the Syrian outbreak has also been detected in sewers in Egypt, Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip.

Polio Basics. The poliovirus is highly contagious. It spreads through contact with the stool (poop) of an infected person and through droplets from a sneeze or cough. The poliovirus requires an unvaccinated host to survive — if there is no one to infect, the virus will die out.

Polio mainly affects children younger than 5. While it usually causes no symptoms, 1 in 200 infections leads to paralysis (usually in the legs), and up to 5% of those who are paralyzed die when the virus affects their breathing muscles. The lack of symptoms also means that an outbreak can go undetected until someone who’s infected does develop paralysis.

The two forms of vaccine are oral polio vaccine (OPV) and inactivated polio vaccine (IPV). Because it is not a shot, OPV is easy to administer and can be given by volunteers. The average cost of one dose of OPV is 60 cents.

Polio cases in faraway countries might not seem like a global concern. But as long as polio is present anywhere, outbreaks are still a risk. In fact, health experts warn that Syrian refugees could unwittingly carry the virus to parts of Europe. Until the disease is finally wiped out, it is a threat to all.

  • End Polio Now: Rotary International, UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are at the forefront the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. To help, you can donate, share your voice on social media, raise awareness, or become an advocate.
  • Shot@Life: Through this United Nations Foundation program, you can help children be vaccinated against polio, as well as measles, pneumonia, or diarrhea, for as little as $5.

Find out how to help kids worldwide in other important ways:

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: December 2013