Polio is on the verge of becoming the second disease after smallpox to have been successfully eradicated from the globe. We’re working to ensure that this becomes a reality. ~ Bill Gates

Freedom to Walk: A World Free of Polio

There is no cure for polio.

“Approximately 95% of persons infected with polio will have no symptoms. About 4-8% of infected persons have minor symptoms, such as fever, fatigue, nausea, headache, flu-like symptoms, stiffness in the neck and back, and pain in the limbs, which often resolve completely. Fewer than 1% of polio cases result in permanent paralysis of the limbs (usually the legs). Of those paralyzed, 5-10% die when the paralysis strikes the respiratory muscles. The death rate increases with increasing age.” (www.cdc.gov)

Fewer than 1%. That’s an extremely small percentage of those seriously affected by polio disease. But not really. Those who are struck with the harshest strain of the disease become severely physically disabled and die much earlier than they should. Polio is 100% preventable. The number of new cases of polio in our world should be zero. But it’s not zero. Not yet.

What is Polio?

“Polio is a crippling and potentially deadly infectious disease caused by a virus that spreads from person to person invading the brain and spinal cord and causing paralysis. Because polio has no cure, vaccination is the best way to protect yourself and the only way to stop the disease from spreading. The spread of polio has never stopped in Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. Poliovirus has been reintroduced and continues to spread in Chad and Democratic Republic of the Congo after the spread of the virus was previously stopped.” (www.cdc.gov)

Polio’s history is long.

“It is likely that polio has plagued humans for thousands of years. An Egyptian carving from around 1400 BCE depicts a young man with a leg deformity similar to one caused by polio. Polio circulated in human populations at low levels and appeared to be a relatively uncommon disease for most of the 1800s.

Polio is caused by one of  three types of poliovirus (which are members of the Enterovirus genus). These viruses spread through contact between people, by nasal and oral secretions, and by contact with contaminated feces. Poliovirus enters the body through the mouth, multiplying along the way to the digestive tract, where it further multiplies.” (www.historyofvaccines.org)

Luckily, for most of the world’s population, Jonas Salk discovered and cultivated a successful vaccine for polio over many years of trial and experimentation.

Because polio is preventable through vaccination, goals have been established worldwide for polio eradication. Many regions of been successful in reaching this goal, but not all. Polio still exists as a cruel and disabling reality in several parts of the world. One such place is India.

Sazid Shad walks with a stick after falling victim to polio in his childhood. A native Indian, Sazid understands the importance of polio immunizations and works as a PCI community outreach worker, educating parents on why they should immunize their children against this crippling disease. Through the efforts of Sazid and others, as well as education events and immunization campaigns, PCI is helping reduce the incidence of polio in some of India’s most high-risk areas.

The Moradabad district outside Delhi, which has been called the global epicenter of polio. However, with current and effective disease prevention measures in place, this will no longer be true. PCI’s goal, through its involvement with the Core Group Polio Project (CGPP), is no new cases of polio – up to 2014 and beyond.

In many rural communities in India, there is a stigma associated with polio vaccinations, and often these cultural barriers are challenging to overcome. PCI has focused its efforts on working within the community using a unique child education and mobilization approach to increase involvement and awareness of polio and vaccines.

Working with partner organization CORE, PCI created special educational programs for local school children that focused on polio and its potential eradication. The lessons were designed to involve students directly in the health and well-being of their families, friends and neighbors by teaching them how they can play a role in the eradication of polio in their own communities. With support from PCI, the children were organized  into calling groups called bulawa tolies and tasked with announcing the dates of vaccination drives, holding anti-disease rallies and teaching the adult members of their families and community about the roles they can play in preventing disease.

This ground-up, community-based approach to disease education and prevention is not only groundbreaking, it is effective. The same citizens who were reluctant to trust health workers were far more willing to listen to members of their own communities, especially their children. As the approach yielded positive results, the program was expanded to include all elementary and middle school students in Moradabad and neighboring Muzaffarnagar and Meerut. Between December 2007 and September 2012, over 630 bulawa tolies, involving over 5,000 children, participated in 29,683 rallies in 44 rounds of polio vaccinations. These public displays and events led to an increase in vaccination coverage in the targeted areas from 67% in 2007 to 76% in 2012.

What is most significant of all is that Meerut, Muzaffarnagar and Moradabad  have not reported any new polio cases since January 2010, and Moradabad, once the epicenter of India’s polio epidemic, has been virus-free since November 2009.

Involving members of at-risk communities in efforts to prevent the spread of infectious diseases is crucial to building a strong foundation of knowledge and tradition to ensure that programs like PCI’s Moradabad intervention continue to increase vaccine coverage and decrease the presence of diseases like polio in the international communities most in need. The success in Moradabad is a great victory and a significant step towards global polio eradication.

Learn more about the many ways PCI is preventing Polio and other diseases worldwide, and how you can make a difference today.