10.24.17 By Sanofi Le Hub
Every day, all over the world, mums and dads take their children to be vaccinated against polio. From the townships of Africa to those of South America and the cities of Asia, North America and Europe, parents everywhere protect their children against a disease that a few decades ago ravaged families and cities.
World Polio Day will be marked on October 24 – a celebration of the work that has been done to help rid the globe of one of its most menacing diseases.
Polio is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system. The virus is transmitted by contaminated water or food. Symptoms include fever, systemic weakness, headache, vomiting, and neck and limb pain. In a small proportion of cases, the disease causes paralysis, which is often permanent. Children under five are most at risk.
In 1988 there were more than 350,000 cases of polio in 125 countries. By 2016 that number was down to 37. In 2017 just 11 cases have been reported so far – all in Afghanistan and Pakistan – with a recent outbreak also being monitored in Syria. In Nigeria – formerly an endemic region – no polio cases have been reported this year.
There is no cure for polio, and vaccination is the only proven form of prevention. We must continue to vaccinate our children until not one single child is at risk.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has been the driving force behind the fight against polio with its Global Polio Eradication Initiative – a $9 billion mass vaccination and global public health program that started in 1988.
The program has brought together international partners such as UNICEF, Rotary International, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the GAVI the Vaccine Alliance, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Due to its longstanding initiatives in health vaccines, Sanofi Pasteur is a major actor alongside with international organizations in the fight against polio. To fit with the Global Polio Eradication Initiative’s objectives, Sanofi Pasteur has adapted its production capacity based on needs. OPV and IPV provided by Sanofi are administrated by governments and non-governmental organizations to millions of children around the world.
With a decrease of more than 99.9% in polio cases, these efforts are bearing fruit. The final tug-of-war against polio is under way.
Polio will be officially certified eradicated if there are no new cases reported for three years – the survival time of the virus without a human reservoir. It is hoped this will be achieved by 2021 if the last endemic countries can remain polio-free. It will become the second human disease to be eradicated since the 1980s, when smallpox disappeared after a global eradication effort.
The key to overcoming this last hurdle could be the form of vaccine used among at-risk populations.
An oral polio vaccine (OPV) has been the principal source of vaccination due to its ease of administration – and Sanofi Pasteur has supplied more than 6 billion doses of the oral vaccine over the last 20 years.
In 2013, WHO recommended that an injectable vaccine – or IPV – be included on pediatric vaccine calendars worldwide. It protects against all three types of polio, while the oral vaccine is less effective now that type 2 (OPV2) polio has been eradicated. In response to this issue, Sanofi Pasteur installed a new state-of-the-art equipment on its site in Marcy-l’Étoile (France), designed to adapt its current production to their new reality. More than 100 developing countries have made the switch to IPV.
The challenge now is to ensure all children worldwide –especially those in the last endemic regions – receive this latest, most effective vaccine.
Then, and only then, will the fight against polio have been won.
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