Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Polio. We have all heard of it. In all probability, one knows or has seen people afflicted with it. In any eventuality, we are all aware of it. But how much do we really know about it? Do we need to know about it? After all, we are fine. But are we? We are the human civilization. But how human can a civilization be if it is not able to empathize with the suffering of its’ fellow kind? How far can we go in our fight against polio if we do not know who or how one can contract this disease…if we don’t know how to prevent it? Awareness, Education and Action are the 3 pillars with whose support we can finally bid this dreaded affliction goodbye. It is in this spirit that we at Swabhiman hope to spread awareness about this crippling disease. We hope that by doing so we will help, in some part atleast, in the fight against polio.

The following information is aimed at helping one learn more about this health impairment, how it can be prevented and see where we stand today in our fight to eradicate it. And eradicate it we will.

To begin with, poliomyelitis, often called polio or infantile paralysis, is a highly contagious disease that is caused by a virus that primarily lives in the intestines and human feces1,2 It is caused by infection with a member of the genus Enterovirus known as poliovirus (PV). This group of RNA viruses prefers to inhabit the gastrointestinal tract. Notably, PV infects and causes disease in humans alone. Three serotypes of poliovirus have been identified—poliovirus type 1 (PV1), type 2 (PV2), and type 3 (PV3). All three are extremely virulent and produce the same disease symptoms. PV1 is the most commonly encountered form, and the one most closely associated with paralysis.

The polio virus is spread from person-to-person primarily through oral contact with the feces of an infected person (for example, by changing diapers); it can also spread through contaminated food or water, especially in areas with poor sanitation systems.1,2 There have also been cases that have been transmitted by direct oral contact or by droplet spread.3 Once inside the body, the poliovirus multiplies in the throat and intestinal tract, then travels through the bloodstream where it infects the brain and spinal cord1,2

Paralysis occurs because the polio virus attacks the nervous system and damages or destroys the nerves that send messages between the brain and the muscles1,2 Infact different types of paralysis may occur, depending on the nerves involved. Spinal polio is the most common form, characterized by asymmetric paralysis that most often involves the legs.

It is important to note that Poliomyelitis is highly contagious and spreads easily by human-to-human contact. In endemic areas (natural to or characteristic of a specific people or place), wild polio viruses can infect virtually the entire human population. India is an endemic country.

To touch upon the history of polio, it was one of the most dreaded diseases of the twentieth century. It left thousands of people, mostly children, crippled in its wake. However, with the invention of the polio virus vaccine and following its widespread use in the mid-1950s, the incidence of poliomyelitis has declined dramatically in many industrialized countries. In fact, the disease has disappeared to quite a large extent, especially from the States and the Western Hemisphere.
Today, the disease has been eliminated from most of the world, and only seven countries worldwide remain polio-endemic. This represents the lowest number of countries with circulating wild polio virus. At the same time, the areas of transmission are more concentrated than ever - 98 percent of all global cases are found in India, Nigeria and Pakistan.

Sadly, there is no cure for polio; it can only be prevented through immunization. Polio vaccine, given multiple times, almost always protects a child for life. Full immunization will markedly reduce an individual's risk of developing paralytic polio and protect most people. At present there are two types of vaccines available:
• A live attenuated (weakened) oral polio vaccine (OPV) developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in 1961. OPV is given orally.
• An inactivated (killed) polio vaccine (IPV), developed in 1955 by Dr. Jonas Salk; unlike OPV, IPV has to be injected by a trained health worker. IPV is 90% effective after 2 doses and 99% effective after 3 doses.
At this juncture, it is important to mention the ‘The Global Polio Eradication Initiative.’ A global effort to eradicate polio began in 1988, led by the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and The Rotary Foundation. These efforts have reduced the number of annual diagnosed cases by 99%; from an estimated 350,000 cases in 1988 to 1,310 cases in 20075,6
The battle is still on and at this point, we would like to conclude by saying that, “Prevention is the only solution in the case of polio, and Immunization is the only way to prevent polio.”

We invite you to join us in our fight against polio…in our endeavor to make this a polio-free world and thus enable every child a happy today and a bright tomorrow.

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