World Polio Day: PAHO calls for maintaining the high level of polio vaccine coverage in the Americas

infant gets polio vaccine

Washington, D.C., 24 October 2013 (PAHO/WHO) — In recognition of World Polio Day, the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) calls for maintaining high levels of polio vaccine coverage in the region and strengthening epidemiological surveillance of possible cases of acute flaccid paralysis.

The last case of wild polio virus in the Americas was recorded in September 1991 thanks to PAHO/WHO's technical cooperation and the countries' efforts to vaccinate children and maintain high vaccination coverage, as well as sustained epidemiological surveillance.  While in 1975 almost 6,000 cases of polio were recorded in the region, in 1991 the last 6 cases were discovered.

Luis Fermín Tenorio — Last case of poliomyelitis in the Americas
Luis Fermín Tenorio — Last case of poliomyelitis in the Americas

"The constant work of the immunization programs of PAHO/WHO member countries was recognized with this great achievement of eliminating polio. These programs took on the challenge of eliminating the disease from the continent and so they did. Now they continue to work in order to maintain that achievement", said the Immunization coordinator at PAHO/WHO, Cuauhtémoc Ruiz Matus. 

Thanks to the global initiative for polio eradication, in 2013 the disease continues to be endemic in only three countries (Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan), in comparison to 125 endemic countries in 1988. Poliomyelitis cases have decreased by more than 99%, from 350,000 estimated cases in 1988, when the process of eradication started, down to 223 in 2012.

In May 2012, the World Health Assembly declared polio eradication a "programmatic emergency for global public health."  In April of this year the new comprehensive Polio Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan 2013-2018 was presented. This Plan aims to simultaneously eradicate all types of poliomyelitis, including both wild and vaccine-derived poliovirus.

In this regard, the PAHO/WHO Technical Advisory Group (TAG) on Immunization analyzed this year the implications of a possible change in the polio vaccination recommendations in the Americas. The TAG concluded that the region has eliminated and has kept free of poliomyelitis using the oral polio vaccine. For that reason, it recommended that, while there continue to be outbreaks caused by Circulating Vaccine-Derived Poliovirus (cVDPV) and so long as wild poliovirus continues to circulate in the world, "the trivalent oral polio vaccine continues to be the vaccine of choice in the Americas." 

The majority of the vaccines, syringes, and supplies used by immunization programs in Latin America and the Caribbean are acquired through the PAHO/WHO Revolving Fund, a collective mechanism that allows for a continuous supply at affordable prices and high-quality standards.

Poliomyelitis is a very contagious disease caused by a virus that invades the nervous system and can cause paralysis in a matter of hours or days. Polio does not have cure, has life-long consequences and affects mainly children, but is preventable thanks to the polio vaccine.

PAHO was founded in 1902 and is the oldest international public health organization in the world. It works with all countries in the continent to improve the health and quality of life of the people of the region. It acts as the WHO Regional Office for the Americas and it also is the specialized health agency of the Inter-American system.  

World Polio Day - 24 October!  Partners, governments, civil society and communities worldwide are today marking World Polio Day, as efforts to eradicate this disease once and for all are being intensified.  For more, visit