There have been only 34 cases of the disease worldwide in 2015. It's nearly gone—but nearly will not doby Jay Elwes / August 20, 2015 / Leave a comment
On 11th August 2014, the last ever case of polio in Africa was reported in Somalia. After a three decades-long global programme to eliminate the disease for good, the end is now in sight.
Somalia had thought it was clear—there had been six years without cases—when, in May 2013, a two-year-old girl in Mogadishu woke one morning unable to walk. That year, 194 Somalians contracted polio. But in 2014, the number fell to just five. Since then the disease has vanished from Africa, wiped out not only in Somalia but also Nigeria, where it was endemic.
This success means that polio, a disease that for centuries has killed, paralysed and disfigured children, is on the verge not only of eradication in Africa, but of being extinguished worldwide. A huge programme led by governments and international humanitarian agencies, costing billions of dollars has almost wiped it out—and if that goal is reached, the savings will also be in billions. The disease was once so prevalent that the National Health Service estimates that 120,000 people in Britain are still living with the withered, paralysed limbs and other after-effects of the disease. British children are still vaccinated against polio, which they receive by injection aged three.
Now polio is confined to a narrow strip of land on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan, where a huge effort is underway to eliminate the last remaining virus. Experts predict that global eradication will be achieved within five years. If so, that will be only the second time in history that medical science has eliminated a disease from the human population. The other was smallpox, in 1980.
As recently as the late 1980s there were more than 350,000 reported cases of polio a year, across 125 countries—1,000 children per day were contracting a disease capable of crippling them for life. Since 1988, there has been a 99.9 per cent global reduction in polio, and by 2014, there were fewer than 400 cases worldwide, an astounding reduction. So far, in 2015, there have been just 34 reported…