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JOURNAL ARTICLE

Surviving polio in a post-polio world

Nora Ellen Groce, Lena Morgon Banks, Michael Ashley Stein
Social Science & Medicine 2014, 107: 171-8
24607679
Excitement mounts as the global health and international development communities anticipate a polio-free world. Despite substantial political and logistical hurdles, only 223 cases of wild poliovirus in three countries were reported in 2012. Down 99% from the estimated 350,000 annual cases in 125 countries in 1988-this decline signals the imminent global eradication of polio. However, elimination of new polio cases should not also signal an end to worldwide engagement with polio. As many as 20 million continue to live with the disabling consequences of the disease. In developed countries where polio immunization became universal after dissemination of the polio vaccine in the 1950s, almost all individuals who have had polio are now above age 50. But in many developing countries where polio vaccination campaigns reached large segments of the population only after 1988, millions disabled by polio are still children or young adults. Demographically, this group is also different. After three decades of immunization efforts, those children unvaccinated in the late 1980s were more likely to be from poorer rural and slum communities and to be girls-groups not only harder to reach than more affluent members of the population but also individuals who, if they contract polio, are less likely to have access to medical and rehabilitation programs or education, job training, employment and social support services. The commitment to eradicate polio should not be considered complete while those living with the disabling sequelae of polio continue to live in poor health, poverty and social isolation. This paper reviews what is currently known about disabled survivors of polio and highlights areas of need in public health research, policy and programming. Based on a literature review, discussion and field observations, we identify continuing challenges posed by polio and argue that the attention, funding and commitment now being directed towards eradication be shifted to provide for the rehabilitative, medical, educational and social needs of those for whom the disabling sequelae of polio will remain a daily challenge for decades to come.

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