World Polio Day 2012
World Polio Day on 24 October 2012 is marked by exciting progress in global polio eradication efforts.
There are only 3 endemic countries left: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. India, after a long and dedicated fight, has not reported any new polio cases for over 20 months. The number of polio cases reported worldwide is the lowest ever at 171 (as at 16 October 2012).
The 2011 polio outbreak in western China, following wild poliovirus importation from Pakistan (one of the last reservoirs of the disease), was quickly brought under control with decisive control measures and no cases have been detected since the last polio victim developed paralysis on 9 October 2011.
Political commitment to end this dreadful disease once and forever is at unprecedented heights and the world’s health leaders passed a resolution last May at the World Health Assembly to declare the completion of polio eradication a programmatic emergency for global public health. All three remaining endemic countries have launched national emergency action plans to rapidly finish the disease in their countries. But an ongoing funding gap continues to impede implementation of all planned activities, and is putting more children at risk of the disease – the continued and strengthened commitment of the international community is therefore critical to achieve success.
The WHO Western Pacific Region has been certified polio-free since October 2000 and continued efforts made to stay prepared for the return of the disease from places where it still exists have paid off - as the rapid stopping of the outbreak in China has proven.
But it should not be forgotten that many of the polio survivors from times when the Western Pacific still experienced large outbreaks struggle with their life-long disability on a daily basis. Here is the story of a lawyer in the Philippines:
“Arnulfo L., then five years old, literally came with a box when he was returned to his mother. (As is customary in some parts of the Philippines, the young boy had lived with childless relatives until the couple could have a child of their own.) Arnulfo was handed back to his parents—not because he was no longer wanted— but because he was thought to be sick and dying. The childless relative, who "borrowed" him from his parents, believed it was just a matter of time before Arnulfo would succumb to his illness—and so a coffin was ready.
But Arnulfo's mother refused to give up on her son. She took good care of him and nursed him back to health. Amazingly, Arnulfo responded and sprung back to life. The five-year-old's frail body began to regain its strength—but not his atrophied left leg. Poliomyelitis had left its trademark—and a constant reminder of Arnulfo's close brush with death.
Now 57 years old and semi-retired, Arnulfo says: "My mother nicknamed me 'Pilay'," which means "cripple" in Pilipino. "Even though I am now a lawyer, she still calls me Pilay. But I see her wisdom behind this. She must have anticipated that people would call me that in a taunting way. But she called me Pilay with affection so when my friends called me that in a taunting way, the word held no power over me."
Although polio had left Arnulfo with some physical setbacks in life, it challenged him to strive harder. He set goals for himself, one after another. He graduated from university as a certified public accountant (CPA). He then pushed even harder and became a CPA lawyer. With a family—a wife and a son—and a home, Arnulfo says he can't ask for anything more. His goal now is to lighten his workload. After all, among all the work is a thing called life, and Arnulfo wants to enjoy it to the fullest.”
Even polio survivors who initially recovered from an acute polio infection may years later be affected by Post-polio Syndrome (PPS). While PPS is not generally life-threatening, symptoms, such as muscle weakening, may greatly affect an individual’s ability to function independently. A newly prepared fact sheet provides information about key facts, who is at risk, symptoms, causes and some general treatment advice while also offering links to more detailed information.
The plight of polio survivors and PPS victims should be a constant reminder that we need to complete global eradication and cannot give up the fight to rid the world from this crippling disease.