World Immunization Week Spotlight: polio


There is no cure for polio--a disease whose symptoms and effects have been been known for thousands of years. In fact, this image shows what is believed to be a person suffering from polio in ancient Egypt. Polio is caused by a virus that invades the nervous system and can lead to total paralysis within hours; those who survive quite often suffer from other lifelong medical consequences. Prevention is therefore the only way to tackle this disease, and our company has consistently been at the forefront of efforts to eradicate the disease.

The polio vaccine was the very first vaccine that our company researched, developed and produced in the 1950s. Back then, a polio epidemic had hit the United States and heightened concerns about the disease around the world. Six decades later after intense worldwide vaccination programmes and campaigns, we are on the brink of eradicating polio.

A major boost came in 1998 with the launch of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative(GPEI), a public-private partnership whose goal is to eradicate polio worldwide. The figures speak for themselves: polio cases have decreased by over 99%, from an estimated 350,000 cases in 1988 to 1,352 reported cases in 2010. The latest success story has been India, which in early 2012 was removed from the World Health Organisation's list of polio-endemic countries after passing the one-year mark without any new cases. Only three countries - Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan - remain polio-endemic, down from more than 125 nations in 1988.

GSK is a major contributor to the GPEI, delivering to date more than 15 billion doses of Oral Poliovirus Vaccine (OPV) to UNICEF to support the initiative. Between 2000 and 2010 around 80% of our OPV capacity was dedicated to the initiative and supplied at a low price. We also produce and supply Inactivated (killed) Poliovirus Vaccine (IPV), either as a stand-alone vaccine or in combination with other childhood vaccines such as diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough, at tiered prices to countries implementing IPV immunization programmes.

Before polio vaccines had been developed, virtually all children were infected with polio viruses, with annual epidemics leaving thousands of victims using crutches, braces, wheelchairs and iron lungs. Today, a series of polio vaccines can protect a child for life.

Tomorrow we'll highlight the seasonal flu vaccine.

Public domain image courtesy of Wikipedia.