WHO Celebrates Eradication of Polio Virus Type Three Worldwide


Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja

World Health Organisation (WHO) has confirmed the global eradication of wild poliovirus type 3.

However, it said that polio virus type 1 still remains in circulation in just two countries: Afghanistan and Pakistan.

WHO, in a statement to mark the 2019 World Polio Day, said an independent commission of experts has concluded that wild poliovirus type 3 (WPV3) has been eradicated worldwide.

The world health body, who organised activities to mark the World Polio Day Thursday at its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland and in most cities across the world, said the polio eradication efforts have saved the world more than US$27 billion in health costs since 1988.

The body added that a sustained polio-free world would generate further US$14 billion in savings by 2050, compared to the cost countries would incur for controlling the virus indefinitely.

“Following the eradication of smallpox and wild poliovirus type 2, this news represents a historic achievement for humanity.

“The achievement of polio eradication will be a milestone for global health. Commitment from partners and countries, coupled with innovation, means of the three wild polio serotypes, only type one remains.

“We remain fully committed to ensuring that all necessary resources are made available to eradicate all poliovirus strains. We urge all our other stakeholders and partners to also stay the course until final success is achieved,” said WHO Director-General and Chair of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) Polio Oversight Board.

WHO explained that there are three individual and immunologically-distinct wild poliovirus strains: wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1), wild poliovirus type 2 (WPV2) and wild poliovirus type 3 (WPV3). It said symptomatically, all three strains are identical, in that they cause irreversible paralysis or even death. But there are genetic and virologic differences which make these three strains separate viruses that must each be eradicated individually.

WPV3 is the second strain of the poliovirus to be wiped out, following the certification of the eradication of WPV2 in 2015.

The statement said the last case of WPV3 was detected in northern Nigeria in 2012, but that its eradication has been confirmed through the surveillance system, noting that investments in skilled workers, innovative tools and a global network of laboratories have helped determine that no WPV3 exists anywhere in the world, apart from specimens locked in secure containment.

At a celebration event at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Chair of the Independent Global Commission for the Certification of Poliomyelitis Eradication, Prof. David Salisbury, presented the official certificate of WPV3 eradication to Ghebreyesus.

Salisbury described the achievement as significant, saying: “This this is a significant achievement that should reinvigorate the eradication process and provides motivation for the final step – the eradication of wild poliovirus type 1. This virus remains in circulation in just two countries: Afghanistan and Pakistan. We cannot stop our efforts now: we must eradicate all remaining strains of all polioviruses. We do have good news from Africa: no wild poliovirus type 1 has been detected anywhere on the continent since 2016 in the face of ever improving surveillance.”

He added: Although the region is affected by circulating vaccine-derived polioviruses, which must urgently be stopped, it does appear as if the continent is free of all wild polioviruses, a tremendous achievement.

“Eradicating WPV3 proves that a polio-free world is achievable. Key to success will be the ongoing commitment of the international development community. To this effect, as part of a Global Health Week in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in November 2019, the Reaching the Last Mile Forum will focus international attention on eradication of the world’s deadliest diseases and provide an opportunity for world leaders and civil society organisations, notably Rotary International which is at the origin of this effort, to contribute to the last mile of polio eradication. The GPEI 2019–2023 Investment Case lays out the impact of investing in polio eradication.”

GPEI is a public-private global effort made up of national governments, partners including the WHO, Rotary International, the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and a broad range of long-term supporters.