Medical Milestone: The Eradication of Polio

Medical Milestone: The Eradication of Polio

The ending of an era

There’s a lot to taking care of your baby: check-ups, allergy tests, vaccinations. But have you ever stopped to think about what all of those shots are really for? With India, the world’s second most populous nation behind China, reaching a medical milestone this week, it’s worth taking a closer look at one of the standard vaccines: poliomyelitis.

polio vaccine

Polio—it’s a word for a viral infection you may have a vague notion of, but since it has been eradicated from the U.S. since 1979 it isn’t entirely familiar. A disease that attacks the brain and nerve cells responsible for joints, it can quickly render a person’s legs useless. It can be transmitted through oral contact as well as coming into contact with affected fecal matter or contaminated food or water. It’s most potent seven to ten days after the appearance of symptoms, but can be transmitted as long as the virus is present.

Polio was a very scary reality for Americans—causing swimming pools to close and limited contact among friends for several years. At its worst, in the 40s and 50s, some form of Polio affected an average of 35,000 Americans each year. The vaccine was invented and implemented in 1950, and the World Health Organization (WHO) started a worldwide campaign to end Polio in 1988.

Big News, Bigger Impact

India announced late last week that it has eradicated polio: the last major nation to do so, leaving only Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria on the map. In 2009, India was still reporting 741 out of the 1,604 annual cases of polio each year. Health experts across the world were not putting any expectations on India to eliminate the disease, especially when considering its booming population rate and poor sanitation conditions.

vaccine

However, WHO will formally announce India’s success on March 27th. The final case of polio in India was diagnosed in 2011, to Rukhsar Khatoon, now 4 years old. Not yet old enough to grasp the situation, Rukhsar has been a literal poster child since her diagnosis three years ago. Although the vaccine was available to Rukhsar as an infant, her parents declined due to her other many medical issues. When her leg swelled and began to twist, the diagnosis had been confirmed.

India’s challenge in immunization was largely with keeping the vaccine refrigerated. Beyond vaccinating 170 million children each year, requiring 2 million healthcare workers, and $2.3 billion in government funding, how to properly store the vaccine remained the largest problem. Innovations—such as refrigerators that ran on kerosene and building relationships with clerics—completely changed the course of the healthcare state in India.

So what does this mean for the U.S.?

Although the U.S. has been polio-free for years, there is a lot to learn from India’s resilience and determination to combat the disease. In addition to their new technology and approach, India has helped to usher in a new medical era. With the eradication of one disease, though, another is likely to come along. To help make sure you and your family are prepared, schedule an appointment with us. Talk to your doctor about any questions and concerns you may have regarding polio and other vaccines.