22 Oct 2014
Could gut infections be making the standard polio vaccine ineffective in children in low-income countries? Edward Parker, a PhD student at Imperial College London is trying to find out, as he explains in his article commended in the 2014 Max Perutz Science Writing Award.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative was never meant to last this long.
In 1988, when the campaign was launched, there was considerable optimism that polio would not see the end of the century. Although this deadline has long since passed, the progress made by the eradication initiative should not be underestimated: in what is arguably the greatest onslaught against a disease in history, polio has been reduced from an infection with a global distribution, responsible for 350,000 cases of paralysis each year, to one that is on the brink of extinction. Just 223 cases of the disease were reported in 2012 ― the lowest number on record.
But polio is a wily foe. Despite exhaustive vaccination campaigns, the virus has never been eliminated in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria. What’s more, polio has recently been on the move. After cases in Ethiopia, Somalia, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Syria, and Iraq, in May 2014 the World Health Organization declared the spread of polio to be an international public health emergency. [...]