This Friday will mark a significant milestone in the global fight against polio – it will be a year since the last case of wild poliovirus was detected in India. What makes the feat so remarkable is that in 2009, India recorded more cases of polio than any other country in the world.
Philanthropist and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates says the achievement is a “huge milestone in the history of global health”. The aim of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is to enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty around the world – with the eradication of polio a top priority.
The Indian government has funded its own eradication program, and worked closely with organisations including Rotary International, the World Health Organisation and UNICEF. More than 172 million children are vaccinated at 800,000 vaccinations booths around the country. With a handful of countries recording polio outbreaks, Gates says funding must be sustained to ensure a comprehensive immunization effort in India and other countries—until there are no more cases. Otherwise they virus can spread back into countries where it has been eliminated.
In 2010, there were less than 1,500 reported cases of polio around the world – however Russia reported its first outbreak of the infectious disease in fifteen years.
Polio has now almost certainly been eradicated from Australia – according to the Queensland Health Department, the most recent case of polio caused by wild poliovirus was in 1978. The Australian government announced in October 2011 it would contribute $50 million to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative – matching the $50 million donation by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.