Polio is a highly infectious disease that's been known for more than 200 years. Mainly children under five years of age are affected.
Polio has killed millions in every part of the world. Caused by a virus that invades the nervous system, it can bring about total paralysis in just hours.
While effective vaccines were developed in 1955 and 1960, the fight against polio continues to this day, although the numbers have considerably declined.
Polio reached into every corner of the world, even Canada's Arctic. But while the incidence of polio quickly began to drop in Europe and the Americas with the availability of two vaccines, the disease continued to thrive in the developing world because of natural factors such as high humidity, and poverty-related conditions such as poor sanitation, over-crowding, and weak health systems.
In 1988 more than 125 countries were polio-endemic; now, according to the World Health Organization, or WHO, only four remain: Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.
Dr. Bruce Aylward, a native of St. John's, Newfoundland, and the Director of the WHO's Global Polio Eradication Initiative, says that a new polio vaccine and diagnostic procedures developed by WHO and introduced in late 2009, will accelerate us toward a polio-free world.
[Dr. Bruce Aylward] " We have eradicated polio from Somalia, from Congo, from Angola, numerous other countries, while there was actual conflict ongoing. We have learned a lot of lessons about how to adapt to those situations and work in those situations to get the job finished."
In southern Afghanistan, where children's access to health care can be limited because of the security situation, using this vaccine helps maximize the impact of each contact with a child.
The eradication of polio in Afghanistan is one of Canada's signature development projects where Canada, the Government of Afghanistan, and key international partners, such as the WHO and UNICEF, are working hard toward achieving polio eradication.
Canada's investment of up to $60 million over three years toward the elimination of polio makes it the largest international donor in this area in Afghanistan.
Canada—the host of the G-8 Summit in June 2010—placed polio on the group's agenda when it last held the presidency in 2002 during the summit in Kananaskis, and has renewed its commitment to eradication at every summit since then. The G-8 is the single-largest donor group supporting polio eradication. Canada currently ranks fifth among G-8 donors in this respect.
[Dr. Bruce Aylward] "If Canada had not been involved in Afghanistan, thousands of children would be paralyzed there that otherwise would not have been paralyzed. Even the most basic of infrastructure would not be in place for the purposes of health. We would have no idea if there was H1N1 in the country, if there was a measles outbreak in the country, if there were cholera outbreaks in the country. Because all of this is being done through the polio infrastructure that Canada is providing the support for: Canada is the backbone, not just to the polio program there, but so much else that we are trying to achieve in health. Without this, it would be a much, much bleaker, black picture for the health, not just of children, but of the general population in Afghanistan."
Canada remains committed to the goal of a polio-free world, and is currently supporting polio eradication in many parts of the world, including sub-Saharan Africa, Afghanistan, and along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. And polio campaigns, as Dr. Alyward points out, have helped health workers make inroads to ridding developing countries of other killer diseases and afflictions.
[Dr. Bruce Aylward] "The G-8, both in terms of the G-8 process and the individual member states, have been absolutely essential to polio. And this is one area where Canada has played an incredibly important leadership role, because it was back at the Kananaskis Summit. G-8 Summit, that Canada put polio on the agenda of the G-8—spoke specifically to it in the communiqué—and committed the G-8 to actually delivering on the goal of polio eradication through both financial support and advocacy with the remaining polio-infected countries."
Special thanks to Rotary International for their assistance in making this video.