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April 3, 2014

Southeast Asia is polio-free. What does it mean?

On March 27th the World Health Organization’s South-East Asia region was declared polio-free. This historic accomplishment marks a vital step toward the Global Polio Eradication Initiative’s goal of delivering a polio-free world by 2018.  India, once deemed the most difficult place to end polio, recorded its last case in January 2011 – a remarkable triumph that opened the door for the entire region to be certified polio-free.

What does it mean for global health?

  • Today, 1.8 billion people across the region’s 11 countries are at greatly reduced risk of polio infection, thanks to unprecedented commitment from governments, exceptional program quality, and the dedication of millions of community health workers and volunteers.
  • Between 1995 and 2013, the program conducted at least 189 nationwide polio immunization campaigns, administering  more than 13 billion oral polio vaccine doses across the region. Mass immunizations will continue in polio endemic and polio threatened countries unitl total eradication is achieved.
  • Stopping polio throughout  the region -- where some countries have been polio-free for more than 15 years— strengthened the delivery of health care services to the most vulnerable communities, allowing other health priorities to be addressed.
  • Trained polio vaccinators and health workers can now be redeployed to improve immunization rates for other childhood diseases.
  • In several countries, high-performing polio surveillance systems have been expanded to track other vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, neonatal tetanus, and Japanese encephalitis

This achievement in polio eradication generates lasting benefits for global health, but the work cannot stop here.  In order to protect gains against polio, the world community must remain committed to improving routine immunization coverage and maintaining sensitive surveillance. With three countries remaining polio endemic – Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan – the lessons learned in the Southeast Asia region will play a vital role in achieving a polio free world. 

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