The invention of vaccines has revolutionized the way we are fighting diseases and epidemics completely. It is a really long and hard road since, as everyone knows, a vaccine will not cure a person of a specific disease but instead it will create a protective “shield” and offer this person immunity against it. So it takes decades for the number of cases to reach zero, an achievement that is not always possible even with the most sophisticated vaccines.
Fortunately, we are living in a period of time when we can witness such a phenomenal accomplishment. According to a recent study published by the World Health Organization, there have only been nine documented cases of polio this year and if the predictions turn out accurate, about one year from now the number will be zero.
The significance of such an outcome is enormous. The effects of polio (short for poliomyelitis) are devastating. They could appear as anything from a mild paralysis of a limb (in most cases it is one of the two legs) up to total paralysis from the neck done, making the patient a quadriplegic.
There are hundreds of thousands of people all over the world suffering from them. The numbers speak for themselves. In 1952, the year when the polio vaccine was invented (but also the time when the disease had reached an all time high) 20.000 people were infected with it in the United States of America alone. Thirty six years after the vaccine’s first use, in 1988, there were still 350.000 patients all over the world. A haunting statistic of that year reveals that more than one thousand children developed some sort of paralysis because of polio on a daily basis.
Almost three decades after the aforementioned year, the number of cases has been reduced about 40.000 times and the virus has been confined to two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan. These two are the ones where all of this year’s 9 and last year’s 74 cases were traced.
However, it is extremely important that we are very cautious and continue the vaccination schedules because another unexpected outbreak is extremely easy to happen, especially in countries with poor health care systems and insufficient hygiene levels.
It appears that after eradicating smallpox, medicine will soon claim its second “victim”, polio. This is a triumph that would not be possible without the invaluable help of an estimated 20 million volunteers spread in various countries paired with an international financial contribution that reached 11 billion dollars.