Polio: No Longer a Threat in Southeast Asia
The World Health Organization announced on March 27, 2014, that polio had been successfully eradicated in Southeast Asia. This incredible news means that millions of young people will never suffer from the effects of this devastating disease. The WHO Southeast Asia region is home to 25 percent of the world’s population, and the countries in this designated area include India, Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Thailand, the Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director for the WHO South-East Asia Region, remarked that “This is a momentous victory for the millions of health workers who have worked with governments, nongovernmental organizations, civil society and international partners to eradicate polio from the Region.”
The polio eradication efforts in Southeast Asia were successful thanks to an intensive program of education and vaccination. Healthcare workers often put their personal health and safety at risk in order to reach people in remote communities who had little access to medical help and supervision. Many of us living in America often take this vaccine and the freedom from the devastating effects of polio for granted, but this is truly a momentous public health victory in Southeast Asia.
Do I Need the Polio Vaccine?
Prior to the development of the polio vaccine, this infectious disease permanently disabled tens of thousands of people in the United States on an annual basis. It is spread through human contact and through people coming into contact with the fecal matter of those who are infected. In rural Southeast Asia, a lack of modern sanitation means that polio could spread quickly and harm entire communities.
Most people born in the United States or the Western Hemisphere received polio vaccines at a young age. Children tend to receive the first dose of inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) at 2 months old, followed by another dose at 4 months old. A third dose is administered at 6 to 18 months old. A final booster dose is administered to the child when he or she is 4 to 6 years old.
You may need a booster dose if you are a healthcare worker treating patients who may have come into contact with the polio virus. However, most people need a booster dose because they are traveling to a region where polio outbreaks occur. If the latter applies to you, then you will receive an initial dose at any time. A second dose is administered one to two months later, and a final dose is given six to 12 months after your second dose. If you think that you may need a polio vaccination or booster dose, then you should make an appointment with a travel health specialist. He or she will examine your medical history and advise you as to what is the best course of action.
Eradicating Polio in Southeast Asia: A Public Health Success Story
Regardless of age, sex, religion, race, or nationality, we are all united by the need to maintain good health. The public health workers who made significant efforts to reach communities in vulnerable areas in order to teach them about vaccination should be commended. Their work has saved an untold number of people from a lifetime of pain and misery. With 80 percent of the world’s population now living in polio-free zones, the next step is to achieve the complete eradication of polio by 2018. If current outreach and educational programs continue to be as successful as they have been in Southeast Asia, then we may very well be celebrating a polio-free world just four years from now.