In 1988, the World Health Assembly adopted a resolution for the worldwide eradication of polio. This marked the launch of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI); a public-private partnership spearheaded by: National governments, the World Health Organization, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and UNICEF. Governments and ministries of health are the primary owners and beneficiaries of the polio eradication effort, responsible for overall implementation of the eradication strategies at all levels. The GPEI, along with its partners, has helped countries reduce the global incidence of polio by 99.9 percent since GPEI’s foundation.
Certification of eradication is possible when all countries in the region demonstrate the absence of wild poliovirus transmission for three consecutive years in the presence of certification standard surveillance. The Global Certification Commission sets the global certification criteria for poliomyelitis eradication and poliovirus containment.
- WPV Type 2 has not been detected since 1999. In 2015, it was declared eradicated worldwide.
- WPV Type 3 has not been detected since 2012. In 2019 it was declared eradicated worldwide.
- WPV Type 1 transmission has not been interrupted yet with ongoing transmission in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
After certification of eradication of each poliovirus type, the remaining poliovirus and vaccine stocks must be destroyed or securely contained. This is to prevent the virus being released into communities. If it is released back into communities, it can have devastating consequences – once again, causing paralysis and death in susceptible populations. In fact, smallpox was released in 1979 caused by a laboratory containment failure, in a medical research facility in Birmingham, United Kingdom.
Even after eradication, the poliovirus will be kept in a limited number of laboratories and facilities worldwide to serve critical functions such as vaccine manufacturing and research.
Containment is used to minimize the risk of these viruses being released into communities. Containment includes biosafety and biosecurity requirements for laboratories, vaccine production sites, or any other facility that handles or stores eradicated polioviruses.
Handling and storing an eradicated pathogen is a major risk and responsibility. The World Health Organization urges destruction of type 2 polio virus materials wherever possible, to minimize risk. All research laboratories that will continue to work with polio virus, or vaccine manufacturers, will need to ensure safe handling conditions of their stock to avoid laboratory containment failure.
The second area of focus is the vaccines. There will be a phased removal of OPV after eradication. This is to ensure the long term risks of vaccine derived polio viruses are eliminated. Once all remaining strains of wild polio virus have also been eradicated, all OPV use will be withdrawn.
The third area of focus is surveillance. Surveillance systems need to be maintained to ensure the rapid detection of any re-emergence of the virus.
Before the formation of the GPEI, 350,000 children were paralyzed for life by the virus every year. If we do not eradicate polio, the number of paralyzed children will rise again to hundreds and thousands crippled each year by a disease we could and should have stopped. The eradication of smallpox is one of the greatest public health achievements.
And you, too, can share this honor by volunteering and spreading awareness of the dangers of the polio virus and benefits of the polio vaccine.