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10 Things You Need To Know About Poliomyelitis

Poliomyelitis, often called polio or infantile paralysis, is an infectious disease caused by the poliovirus. In about 0.5% of cases there is muscle weakness resulting in an inability to move. This can occur over a few hours to few days. The weakness most often involves the legs but may less commonly involve the muscles of the head, neck and diaphragm. Many but not all people fully recover. In those with muscle weakness about 2% to 5% of children and 15% to 30% of adults die. Another 25% of people have minor symptoms such as fever and a sore throat and up to 5% have headache, neck stiffness and pains in the arms and legs. These people are usually back to normal within one or two weeks. In up to 70% of infections there are no symptoms. Years after recovery post-polio syndrome may occur, with a slow development of muscle weakness similar to that which the person had during the initial infection.

  • What is the cause of polio?

Polio is caused by the poliovirus, a highly contagious virus specific to humans. The virus usually enters the environment in the feces of someone who is infected. In areas with poor sanitation, the virus easily spreads through the fecal-oral route, via contaminated water or food.

  • How many people have died of polio?

Before the polio vaccine, 13,000 to 20,000 people were paralyzed by polio, and about 1,000 people died from it each year in the United States. Most of those infected were elementary school children so it was often called 'infantile paralysis.'

  • Is the polio vaccine a live virus?

There are two types of vaccine that protect against polio: inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) and oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV). IPV is given as an injection in the leg or arm, depending on the patient's age. Polio vaccine may be given at the same time as other vaccines.

  • What are the three types of polio?

Paralytic: This is the rarest and most serious form of polio, which produces full or partial paralysis in the patient. There are three types of paralytic polio: spinal polio(affects the spine), bulbar polio (affects the brainstem), and bulb spinal polio(affects the spine and brainstem).

Eradicating polio is not just to rid the countries of the disease, but an opportunity to reduce inequity by ensuring every single child is reached and protected against this crippling disease which in turn will result in better health, socioeconomic gains for families and national development. In the words of Margaret Chan, “Polio eradication is at a tipping point between success and failure; we are in emergency mode to tip it towards success by working faster and better, focusing on the areas where children are most vulnerable.” However, to ensure all vulnerable children are reached and no child is missed, there is need for quality data at all levels, which unfortunately remains a problem. In Nigeria, one of the endemic countries, the government has worked tremendously to improve vaccination by launching massive vaccination and awareness creation campaigns, however the dearth of data and poor surveillance among other factors remains a problem; and may continue to hinder the country’s journey towards eradicating polio. Keeping in mind that the eradication of polio must be a joint venture by all, including families and communities, the Client Held Personal record, an innovative data tool held by the family serves as an immunization and accountability tool that not only allows families to participate in the care of their child but also serves as a behavioral change tool that reminds them to vaccinate their children when due. This tool can also serve as a data source for numbers of children vaccinated against polio and other childhood illnesses.

To ensure we meet the deadline of eradicating polio by 2019,

  1. We call for the governments in affected countries to continue to take a strong leadership in the fight against polio eradication

  2. For the alignment of political will and purpose across all levels of government in the fight against polio

  3. For country-specific innovative social and behavioral change strategies, to end polio.

  4. For strengthened systemic surveillance in polio outbreak areas and among vulnerable children and groups

  5. We call for effective tracking and immunization of vulnerable children against polio. No child should be missed

  6. We call for the empowerment of health workers, in particular community health workers and vaccinators through trainings and incentive provisions

  7. We call for the strengthening of social and health data for not only polio immunization but all routine childhood immunization

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