by Carly Roye
Take a look back at the fight to eradicate polio and some of the challenges we still face in putting this illness in the history books for good.
Early 20th Century
In the early 20th century, polio paralyzed hundreds of thousands of children every year and was quickly becoming one of the most feared diseases of its time.
On March 26, 1953, at a time when the epidemic was at its worst, American scientist Dr. Jonas Salk announced that he had successfully found a vaccine to fight polio. The mass vaccinations that followed proved to be effective as the United States alone saw the number of cases drop dramatically from 35,000 in 1953 to just 5,300 in 1957.
In the early 1980s, polio was on a steady decline as more and more adopted the easily-administered oral vaccine. By 1988, polio had all but disappeared from Western society, though the threat remained in more than 125 countries. That same year, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was formed to help further the global efforts to end the disease.
A new millennium
Though global efforts to eradicate polio had reduced active cases by 99.9% since 1988, the disease was still on the move in the early 2000s. In places like Kano, Nigeria, local Islamic leaders banned the vaccine over post-September 11th suspicions of Western medicine. Vaccinations eventually resumed, but the damage had been done. Within a few years, hundreds of new cases of polio were reported in Nigeria and bordering countries.
Today and beyond
In 2016, polio affected 37 children in only three countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria. Though this is the lowest annual case count in history, experts believe that if the disease is not fully eradicated within 10 years time, we could see as many as 200,000 new cases of polio across the globe each year.
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