Technology is playing a key part in the fight against Polio. Collecting, analyzing and reporting on the masses of polio-related data generated globally on a daily basis is a significant undertaking, particularly when data about new cases must be distributed as quickly as possible to allow global, regional and local partners to coordinate a response.
- Article by Kevin Crampton
If humanity en masse could make a New Year’s resolution this month then we could do a lot worse than aiming for the complete global eradication of poliomyelitis (polio).
“Once polio is eradicated, the world can celebrate the delivery of a major global public good that will benefit all people equally, no matter where they live.” – World Health Organisation
The disease’s effects can cause limbs to atrophy, severe muscle weakness, paralysis and leave sufferers crippled, dependent on an “iron lung” to mechanically aid their breathing, or dead. It’s a virus that’s lived alongside man successfully for a long time and is first depicted in Egyptian hieroglyphics, causing untold suffering throughout our history since it primarily attacks children under 5 years old and there is no known cure.
Our resolution would have a good precedent too since a concentrated global effort coordinated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) led to the eradication of the smallpox virus in 1979 and the Rinderpest in 2011.
A Polio-Free World
It’s clear what an enormous benefit the extinction of these diseases represent, once gone they are gone forever and every future generation benefits from improved health. The economic saving is estimated in the 10’s of billions of US Dollars.
More good news is that we are also very close to a polio-free world. The WHO and its partners have been working towards this goal since 1988 when the World Health Assembly, comprised of Ministers of Health of all countries of the world, resolved to eradicate polio. This launched the Global Polio Eradication Initiative and polio cases have been reduced by 99% compared to 1988 levels thanks to the use of vaccines. In 2012 for example there were just 223 cases, the lowest level ever reached, and the disease remains endemic in only three countries Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.
But there are significant challenges; polio symptoms only become visible in about 1% of cases which makes targeting immunizations difficult and the disease can quickly re-establish itself due to its aggressive rate of infection. Also the last strongholds of polio are political sensitive regions as the murder of vaccination workers in Pakistan at the end of 2012 attests.
Technology is playing a key part in the fight against the disease. Collecting, analyzing and reporting on the masses of polio-related data generated globally on a daily basis is a significant undertaking, particularly when data about new cases must be distributed as quickly as possible to allow global, regional and local partners to coordinate a response.
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