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Episode #79 - Is poliovirus making a comeback?

22 September 2022 | Science conversation

Summary

What does it mean when poliovirus is detected in the sewage of a City? Dr Zubair Wadood explains what it will take to eradicate polio from the planet in Science in 5.

Podcast

Transcript

Vismita Gupta-Smith

Poliovirus has been detected in New York and London. What does that mean and what will it take to eradicate polio from the planet? Hello and welcome to Science in 5. I'm Vismita Gupta-Smith. We are talking today to Dr. Zubair Wadood. Welcome, Zubair. Zubair, let's start with: What does it mean to detect poliovirus in New York and London?

Dr Zubair Wadood

Thank you Vismita. so poliovirus has been detected in New York and London in these high-income countries. In London, the detection is only in the sewage system, while in New York it is in the sewage system, as well as unfortunately also led to a paralytic polio case.

What it means is that poliovirus is transmitting in these communities, and it is commendable to note that public health authorities in these places are taking appropriate, strong actions to stop the transmission of poliovirus and strengthen surveillance, especially focusing on the high risk population subgroups.

Now taking a step back and looking at these events in perspective of the global polio eradication efforts, indeed, from a scientific perspective, these kind of events do not represent a make or break for the global polio eradication effort. The global polio eradication effort and its success would actually bank a lot on the progress in the two remaining endemic polio reservoirs in the world that is Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Events like London and New York represent a glimpse or just a reminder for us that polio can resurface anywhere in the world until and unless it is eradicated from the entire globe. And Pakistan and Afghanistan remain the highest priority when it comes to a polio eradication global effort.

Vismita Gupta-Smith

Zubair, most of the world has eradicated polio. Why does it keep appearing in different countries?

Dr Zubair Wadood

When it comes to Pakistan and Afghanistan, it is very encouraging to see that there is a

lot of progress over the last two years. In Pakistan, although the new polio cases are on the increase in 2022. However, these polio cases are being reported from a small geographical area in one of the provinces in the country. In Afghanistan as well, more than 3 million children who were previously not consistently reached with polio vaccine are now being offered polio vaccine quite regularly over the last year or so, which is a great progress.

Having said that, poliovirus is still managing to transmit and circulate in some parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan. And until and unless this transmission is stopped, polio will continue to surface here and there. And we have seen in late 2021 and in 2022, polio virus importation into South-East Africa. And now we are seeing poliovirus transmission detected in places like New York and London.

It all reiterates that the last strongholds of poliovirus in Pakistan and Afghanistan need to be addressed and poliovirus transmission needs to be stopped there. Until and unless we achieve that, the poliovirus will continue to appear in different parts of the world given the ongoing population movement.

Vismita Gupta-Smith

Zubair, speak to us about what it will take to eradicate polio from the planet.

Dr Zubair Wadood

To achieve success now for polio eradication is a matter of political and societal will. We know what it takes to eradicate polio. We have the strategies. The biological and technical feasibility of polio eradication has been completely established, but it is a matter of appropriately and strongly implementing those strategies.

It is very heartening to see that political fora like G7, G8, Commonwealth countries, as well as World Health Assembly, fully recognize the current opportunity. But this window of opportunity is not going to be open forever, and it needs to be taken and utilized very efficiently, smartly and quickly.

Rotary International and Rotarians across the world are engaging with the governments of the polio-affected countries and donor countries. Societies are being mobilized.  There is a pledging moment coming up next month in October, very generously co-hosted by the government of Germany. What the success means is no child ever  paralyzed by poliovirus anywhere in the world.

While the failure would mean tens of thousands of polio cases over the coming years with a lot of economic impacts as well. If we fail, we cannot point towards medical and technical issues. It will be only because of the lack of political and societal will. So let us put our hands together and give this last push to eradicate polio from the planet and give our generations to come, a healthy future free of polio.

Vismita Gupta-Smith

Thank you, Zubair. That was Science in 5 today. Until next time then, stay safe, stay healthy and stick with science.

 
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