Polio eradicators hail historic progress

May 01, 2015, 6:28 AM EDT
Children receive polio vaccines.
AFP/Getty Images

The world is closer than ever to being able to wipe out polio, international experts said on Thursday, Reuters writes, with zero cases of the crippling disease recorded across all of Africa this year and fewer than 25 globally.

Polio eradication specialists are wary of claiming premature success and warn complacency could prove the project's downfall, but with only two countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan, reporting polio cases in 2015, they see an end in sight.

"We've never been in a better place to hold hopes of being able to eradicate this disease once and for all," said Peter Crowley of the United Nations children's fund UNICEF.

Jay Wenger, head of polio eradication at the Gates Foundation, told reporters: "The progress is very impressive. We're looking forward to finishing the job."

"We don't think we can declare victory, but we've never gone anywhere near this long without any wild polio virus being found in Nigeria or in Africa as a whole," he said on a telephone briefing with experts from the World Health Organization (WHO), the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) and the U.S. Centres of Disease Prevention and Control.

Polio is a viral disease that invades the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis within hours. It can spread rapidly, particularly among children and especially in unsanitary conditions in war-torn regions, refugee camps and areas where healthcare is limited.