World Polio Day is observed every year on October 24th to raise awareness about the importance of eradicating polio, a highly infectious viral disease that primarily affects young children. It can lead to irreversible paralysis and, in some cases, death. While significant progress has been made in the global fight against polio, the disease remains a threat in a few parts of the world.
The day serves as an opportunity to celebrate the achievements made in polio eradication efforts and to generate support for the ongoing initiatives aimed at eliminating the disease completely. It is a time to mobilize communities, governments, and organizations to continue the fight against polio through vaccination campaigns, advocacy, and fundraising efforts.
What is Polio?
Polio, also known as poliomyelitis, is a highly infectious viral disease caused by the poliovirus. It primarily affects children under the age of 5. The virus is spread through person-to-person contact, primarily through the fecal-oral route or, less frequently, through contaminated water or food.
Most people who are infected with the poliovirus do not exhibit any symptoms and may not even realize that they are infected. However, in some cases, the virus can attack the nervous system and cause paralysis. This paralysis can be permanent, leading to muscle weakness, disability, and in severe cases, death.
There are three strains of wild poliovirus (type 1, type 2, and type 3), and historically, the disease has caused widespread outbreaks and epidemics. The development of effective polio vaccines, such as the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) and the oral polio vaccine (OPV), has been instrumental in reducing the global burden of the disease.
Thanks to global vaccination efforts, the number of polio cases has decreased significantly over the years. As of my last knowledge update in 2021, wild poliovirus remains endemic in only a few countries, including Afghanistan and Pakistan, although there have been sporadic cases reported in other regions. Global initiatives, such as the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), continue to work towards the complete eradication of polio worldwidePolio, or poliomyelitis, can have various effects on individuals, particularly young children. Here are some key facts about the effects of polio:
- Paralysis: One of the most severe effects of polio is paralysis, which can be temporary or permanent. The virus attacks the nervous system, leading to muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis, typically in the legs.
- Muscle Atrophy: Prolonged paralysis can result in muscle atrophy, where the affected muscles become weak and shrink in size due to lack of use. This can lead to long-term physical disabilities and challenges with mobility.
- Respiratory Problems: In some cases, polio can affect the muscles involved in breathing, leading to respiratory problems and potentially life-threatening complications, especially if the muscles that control breathing are affected.
- Post-Polio Syndrome: Some individuals who had polio may experience post-polio syndrome later in life. This condition involves the development of new muscle weakness, fatigue, and pain in muscles that were previously affected by the poliovirus.
- Emotional and Social Impact: Individuals affected by polio may face emotional and social challenges due to their physical disabilities. Stigma and discrimination can affect their social interactions and opportunities, leading to feelings of isolation and low self-esteem.
- Economic Burden: Families and communities may face economic burdens due to the costs of long-term care and rehabilitation for individuals affected by polio. This can include expenses related to mobility aids, physical therapy, and other necessary support services.
Key facts about Polio
Here are key facts about polio as elaborated by WHO:
- Polio (poliomyelitis) mainly affects children under 5 years of age.
- One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis. Among those paralysed, 5–10% die when their breathing muscles become immobilized.
- Cases due to wild poliovirus have decreased by over 99% since 1988, from an estimated 350 000 cases then, to 6 reported cases in 2021.
- As long as a single child remains infected, children in all countries are at risk of contracting polio. Failure to eradicate polio from these last remaining strongholds could result in a global resurgence of the disease.
- In most countries, the global effort has expanded capacities to tackle other infectious diseases by building effective surveillance and immunization systems.
History of World Polio Day
World Polio Day was established by Rotary International to commemorate the birth of Jonas Salk, the researcher who developed the first effective polio vaccine. The inaugural World Polio Day was observed on October 24, 2014.
The day was designated to raise awareness about the importance of global efforts to eradicate polio, as well as to honor the contributions of individuals and organizations dedicated to the fight against this disease. Since its inception, World Polio Day has served as an important platform to mobilize support, raise funds, and advocate for the eradication of polio worldwide.
On World Polio Day, various events are organized globally to highlight the progress made in the fight against polio and to emphasize the need for continued vaccination efforts and surveillance to prevent the re-emergence of the disease. These events include seminars, fundraising campaigns, vaccination drives, and educational initiatives aimed at informing the public about the impact of polio and the importance of vaccination.
Through the collective efforts of organizations, governments, healthcare professionals, and volunteers, World Polio Day continues to play a crucial role in galvanizing support for the global initiative to eradicate polio and ensure a polio-free world for future generations.
Theme of World Polio Day 2023
Each year, World Polio Day focuses on a specific theme related to polio eradication. The theme for World Polio Day 2023 is “World Polio Day 2023 and Beyond: A healthier future for mothers and children.”
- World Polio Day 2022 Theme: A healthier future for mothers and children
- World Polio Day 2021 Theme: Delivering on a Promise
- World Polio Day 2020 Theme: Stories of Progress: Past and Present
- World Polio Day 2019 Theme: Stories of Progress: Past and Present
- World Polio Day 2018 Theme: End Polio Now
Significance of World Polio Day
World Polio Day holds significant significance in the global effort to eradicate polio and raise awareness about the importance of vaccination and public health initiatives. Some key aspects that underscore the importance of World Polio Day are:
- Raising Awareness: The day serves as a global platform to raise awareness about the importance of polio eradication and the potential consequences of a polio resurgence. It highlights the significance of continued vaccination efforts and the need for sustained public health measures.
- Mobilizing Support: World Polio Day mobilizes support from governments, organizations, communities, and individuals to contribute to the efforts aimed at eradicating polio. It encourages collective action and advocacy to ensure that resources and attention remain focused on achieving a polio-free world.
- Celebrating Progress: World Polio Day provides an opportunity to celebrate the significant achievements made in the global fight against polio. It acknowledges the progress in reducing the number of polio cases worldwide and recognizes the contributions of healthcare workers, volunteers, and organizations involved in the polio eradication efforts.
- Advocacy and Fundraising: The day promotes advocacy and fundraising initiatives to support ongoing polio vaccination campaigns and research activities. It encourages communities and stakeholders to actively participate in efforts to secure the necessary resources and funding to achieve and sustain a polio-free world.
- Global Collaboration: World Polio Day fosters global collaboration and partnerships among various stakeholders, including governments, non-governmental organizations, international agencies, and communities. This collaboration strengthens the collective resolve to eliminate polio and underscores the importance of international cooperation in addressing global health challenges.
How to Observe World Polio Day
Observing World Polio Day can be a meaningful way to contribute to the global efforts to eradicate polio and raise awareness about the importance of vaccination. Here are several ways to observe this day:
- Raise awareness: Use social media platforms to share information about polio, its impact, and the importance of vaccination. Share stories of polio survivors and the progress made in eradicating the disease.
- Organize events: Plan and host local events, such as seminars, panel discussions, or webinars, to educate the community about the importance of polio eradication. Invite healthcare professionals, researchers, and polio survivors to share their experiences and insights.
- Fundraising campaigns: Organize fundraising activities to support polio vaccination campaigns and research initiatives. Encourage donations from the community and businesses to contribute to the global effort to eradicate polio.
- Advocacy efforts: Engage with local policymakers and authorities to advocate for policies that support and prioritize polio eradication efforts. Raise awareness about the importance of sustained immunization programs and the need for continued surveillance to prevent polio outbreaks.
- Vaccination drives: Collaborate with local healthcare providers and organizations to organize polio vaccination drives in communities that may be at risk. Encourage parents to vaccinate their children and provide information about the importance of immunization.
- Educational activities: Organize educational programs in schools and communities to teach children and families about the history of polio, the importance of vaccination, and the role they can play in preventing the spread of the disease.
- Partnerships and collaborations: Partner with local and international organizations that are actively involved in polio eradication efforts. Join hands with volunteers and stakeholders to support their initiatives and contribute to the global fight against polio.