UNICEF Reports Progress Toward Eliminating Polio but Warns of Risks

The number of children who contract polio has never been lower, UNICEF reports, although risks of outbreaks remain in countries and regions with limited vaccination coverage.

According to the agency, just fifty-one cases of wild poliovirus have been reported since the beginning of 2015, compared to 242 cases in 2014, while Afghanistan and Pakistan are now the only countries in which the disease is endemic. Nigeria, which just three years ago accounted for more than half of all polio cases, succeeded this year, for the first time, in interrupting transmission of the virus and has been removed from the list of polio-endemic countries. In a statement marking World Polio Day on October 24, UNICEF attributed these successes to political will and government leadership in at-risk countries, the strong mobilization and engagement of local communities, the courage and commitment of frontline workers, and the coordinated efforts of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, Rotary International, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and UNICEF itself.

At the same time, the UN agency noted that recent vaccine-derived poliovirus outbreaks in countries such as Laos, Ukraine, Guinea, and Madagascar have underscored the risks that many countries continue to face due to their low  immunization rates. According to the agency, such outbreaks serve as a reminder of the critical need for intensified efforts aimed at strengthening routine immunization systems and addressing disparities in children’s access to basic health services.

"Progress to end polio is real and dramatic, with now just two countries in the world where the wild poliovirus has never been interrupted: Afghanistan and Pakistan," said Peter Crowley, who heads the Polio Unit at UNICEF. "But — and it's a big but — until all children everywhere are consistently and routinely immunized against polio, the threat remains. We cannot let down our guard; we have to keep going until there is not a single child anywhere who remains unvaccinated."

"World Polio Day: Fewer Children Than Ever With Polio." UNICEF Press Release 10/23/2015.