The World Health Organization says polio could be finished within the next six months everywhere, except in Nigeria. A WHO Committee of Experts meeting in Geneva recommends new outbreaks of polio be declared an international health emergency to prevent its further spread.
The World Health Organization acknowledges it may miss the original target date of eradicating polio throughout the world by the end of this year. But, it says it is optimistic that the crippling disease is nearing its end thanks to new, more effective tools.
The chairman of the Advisory Committee on Polio Eradication, Steve Cochi, says a new polio vaccine is proving to be more effective in building up immunity against polio and stopping its spread, than the traditional vaccine.
"So, all the tools are now in place we believe to rapidly finish polio eradication," said Mr. Cochi. "It is now up to individual countries to effectively utilize these new available tools. And, no reason why polio should exist anywhere in the world by the end of next year."
The World Health Organization finds synchronized immunization campaigns in 23 West and Central African countries have succeeded in eliminating polio in all countries with the exception of Nigeria.
Two years ago, several Muslim States in northern Nigeria stopped immunizing children against polio, fearing the vaccine was contaminated. Subsequently, the virus traveled to neighboring countries, re-infecting 18 previously polio-free countries.
While polio now is under control in these countries, Dr. Cochi says Nigeria remains the single greatest risk to polio eradication at present.
"This is due to the very high disease," he said. "A 13-fold higher burden of disease in Nigeria compared to the next endemic country in the world which is India. And, there has been a much slower than expected decline in new polio cases this year in Nigeria. Because of this the Advisory Committee concludes it will take at least a further 12 months to finish polio eradication in Nigeria."
Dr. Cochi says countries that detect a new case of polio must respond rapidly and use the new vaccine. He says Yemen did this and the disease now is ending there. By contrast, he says Indonesia delayed its nationwide immunization campaigns and used the old vaccine.
"The result is the epidemic continues to expand in Indonesia and has not come completely under control yet," continued Steve Cochi. "So, I think that is a lesson for the future and for all countries who are at risk of importation of polio virus."
Only six countries in the world remain polio endemic - Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Niger, and Egypt. WHO says just over 1,200 cases have been reported this year. This is down from more than 350,000 cases when WHO's global polio eradication campaign began in 1988.
The Advisory Committee recommends that any outbreak of polio in a country free of the disease should be declared a public health emergency. This would force that country to respond rapidly.