On a four-day visit to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), reaffirmed the organization’s commitment to eradicating polio once and for all.
Polio, a highly infectious disease that once terrorized the world and paralyzed many of its victims, is 99.9% eradicated, making efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan all the more pressing.
Afghanistan and Pakistan are the only two countries in the world where wild poliovirus cases were reported last year. Nigeria has not officially eradicated polio, but no wild cases have been reported there since 2016.
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Dr. Tedros recently became the chair of the polio oversight board, which follows the efforts of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative — responsible for global health efforts and driven by various country governments, Rotary International, UNICEF, CDC, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and WHO itself.
Alongside Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean, Dr. Tedros met with heads of state and senior government officials in the two countries, the WHO reported.
Prime Minister says that Government continues to tackle #Polio eradication as a national public health emergency. He said #Pakistan attaches importance to WHO and also appreciates its role. He was talking to Director General WHO Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in Islamabad today. pic.twitter.com/xOXibevMw6— Govt of Pakistan (@pid_gov) January 8, 2019
“We must all give our best on this last mile to eradicate polio once and for all. My wish for 2019 is for zero polio transmission. You have WHO’s full support to help reach every child and stop this virus for good,” Dr. Tedros said.
Dr. Tedros visited health centers in Afghanistan and Pakistan, alongside various leaders, and saw first-hand the impact of WHO-supported health programs. He also visited facilities in both countries, ranging from maternal health centers to trauma care units.
Most notably, he visited the Emergency Operations Center for Polio Eradication in Islamabad, Pakistan, where he applauded the efforts of government and partners working together, noting that working with Afghanistan is of utmost importance in order to prevent cross-border transmission.
Global efforts to eliminate polio began in 1988, when there were 350,000 cases every year, across 125 countries. These efforts have led to large-scale immunization campaigns, which have ultimately lead to only 29 cases of wild poliovirus reported in 2018.
Because it is highly infectious, polio vaccines remain the first defence against this debilitating disease. If the world does not successfully eliminate polio, it is predicted that was many as 200,000 new cases could emerge every year.