DID YOU KNOW? Polio is the only disease still a global health emergency

DID YOU KNOW? Polio is the only disease still a global health emergency
May 23
18:34 2023

In May 2014, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared polio a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC).

The WHO defines a PHEIC as an extraordinary event determined to constitute a public health risk to other states through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response.

The designation allows for an accelerated response, emergency disbursement of funding, and mitigation measures, such as vaccination of international travellers, to reduce the risk of the spread of poliovirus.

Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus. It invades the nervous system and can cause total paralysis within hours. The virus is transmitted from person to person mainly through the fecal-oral route or, less frequently, through contaminated water or food, and multiplies in the intestine.


While there is no cure for polio, the disease can be prevented through the administration of a simple and effective vaccine.


In January 2020, the WHO declared COVID a global health emergency but in May 2023, the health body said the virus no longer represents a global emergency.


Likewise, in July 2022, as mpox (formerly monkeypox) virus spread rapidly, the health body declared the disease a public health emergency of international concern. But in May 2023, the health body called off the declaration.

As for polio, nine years later, it still retains its global health emergency status.

Addressing the member states at the World Health Assembly on Monday, Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said the end of COVID-19 and mpox as public health emergencies of international concern means polio remains the only official global health emergency.

He said following an all-time low of five wild poliovirus cases in 2021, the health body saw an increase in 2022, with 20 cases in Pakistan, two in Afghanistan and eight in Mozambique.


“So far this year, there have been three reported cases of wild poliovirus, including one from Pakistan and two from Afghanistan just last week,” he said.

“WHO and our partners remain steadfastly committed to finishing the job of consigning polio to history.

“We must make sure that the significant investments in polio eradication do not die with polio but are used to build the health systems to deliver the services that these communities so badly need. After all, we haven’t truly helped a child if we protect her from polio but she dies from measles.”

On August 25, 2020, the Africa Regional Certification Commission (ARCC) for polio eradication officially declared Nigeria free of indigenous wild poliovirus.


There have, however, been outbreaks of other polio variants such as the circulating mutant poliovirus type two (cMPV2) which occurs as a result of immunity gaps in children.



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