The United Nations health agency has called for renewed efforts to boost the campaign against polio, stressing that while eradication is technically feasible but political will is necessary to realize this goal.
"We have all the necessary tools to eradicate this disease, so now there is the question of political and societal will to make sure that the emergency plans are fully implemented and that they are fully financed," said the spokesperson for the World Health Organisation (WHO) Global Polio Eradication Initiative, Oliver Rosenbauer, on World Polio Day, 24 October 2012.
The 2012 Day is the first since India was removed from WHO's list of countries with active transmission of wild poliovirus.
World Polio Day is observed annually on the day that marks the birth of United States virologist, Jonas Salk, who was the leader of the team that invented a polio vaccine in 1955.
Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus that invades the nervous system and can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours. The virus enters the body through the mouth and multiplies in the intestine.
Initial symptoms are fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, and stiffness in the neck and pain in the limbs. One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis and among those paralysed, five to 10 per cent die when their breathing muscles become immobilised.
Since 1988, the number of polio cases has been reduced by more than 99 per cent. Currently, only three countries - Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan - are polio endemic. WHO is supporting these countries to implement national emergency action plans to increase polio vaccination coverage among children under five years of age.
"We have seen time and time again that this is a virus which spreads to polio free areas and causes devastating outbreaks," Mr. Rosenbauer said.
He continued: "If we don't finish the job now we could see within the next decade 200,000 new cases every single year all over the world. Given that we are under two hundred cases now we consider this a true humanitarian catastrophe that has to be averted at all costs."
According to WHO, more than 4,000 people have been deployed to assist the three endemic countries, supporting vaccination campaigns through the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
* More on World Polio Day: http://wpd.typepad.com/worldpolioday/