As we observe World Polio Day today, we can consider that, although many Americans may think of polio as a scourge that affected children long ago, this paralyzing disease continues to threaten many children in the world. Polio continues to kill, and those who live can face a lifetime often marked by limited mobility, employment and marriage prospects, as well as social stigma. World Polio Day is held each year on Oct. 24 in commemoration of the birth of Dr. Jonas Salk, who led the first team to develop a vaccine against polio.
Since 1988, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has worked as a spearheading partner in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. HHS joins Rotary International, the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, along with the U.S. Agency for International Development, in the drive to end polio. We are committed to eradicating polio and providing a legacy of freedom from fear of polio for future generations.
The results of the global polio eradication effort have been inspiring, and have led to the lowest number of polio cases to date. In 1988, there were 350,000 cases of polio worldwide. As of Oct. 16, there were 171 cases in 2012. Polio was once a disease of large-scale outbreaks, but the determination of polio eradication workers has led to the disease remaining endemic in only three countries -- Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.
On Dec. 2, 2011, CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., activated CDC's Emergency Operations Center to strengthen the agency's partnership engagement through the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, which is committed to completing the eradication of polio. CDC laboratory professionals help solve many of the world's disease mysteries, and provide genetic sequencing of the poliovirus that can be used to evaluate the quality of surveillance systems. In addition, since 1999, CDC has had a partnership with WHO to support the Stop Transmission of Polio program, which has trained more than 1,800 volunteers from around the world, who have been deployed in 62 countries to strengthen polio vaccination programs.
The eradication of polio is an important priority for our department. The world is not on track to eradicate polio by the end of this year, but we are closer than we have ever been to eradicating polio. It is critical that we complete this mission.