Saturday marks World Polio Day and health advocates have good reason to celebrate considering that cases have decreased by more than 99 percent in less than 30 years.
Once considered a scourge among vulnerable children, polio has been wiped out of more than 125 countries since government groups and NGOs launched a global initiative to put an end to the disease in 1988.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has been a key player in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, posted a short video in honor of World Polio Day that demonstrates how polio has disappeared across the globe.
The highly contagious disease, which can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours, now remains endemic in only two countries -- Pakistan and Afghanistan, according to the World Health Organization.
Back in 1988, there were an estimated 350,000 cases of polio. Last year, there were 359 reported cases. There’s no cure for polio, but it can be prevented through vaccines.
However advocates warn that as long as one child has the disease, children in all countries remain at risk.
To finally eradicate polio in the last “remaining strongholds,” experts hope to more effectively implement the strategies that have worked in other countries.
Nigeria, for example, announced last month that polio was no longer endemic to the country, meaning Africa as a whole is one step closer to being polio-free.
The country that was once at the epicenter of the disease was able to stop the cycle of polio transmission through a comprehensive vaccination program. Government officials and major NGOs partnered with on-the-ground health workers to elicit more than 200,000 volunteers to immunize over 45 million children under 5.
But experts continue to admonish that the disease still requires vigilance, a commitment to getting every child everywhere vaccinated.
“Until all children everywhere are consistently and routinely immunized against polio, the threat remains,” Peter Crowley, head of the Polio Unit at UNICEF, said in a statement. “We cannot let down our guard; we have to keep going until there is not a single child anywhere who remains unvaccinated.”