Experts hopeful polio could be wiped out in 2016

A child in Pakistan receives a polio vaccine.
(Image credit: A. Majeed/AFP/Getty Images)

Just a few dozen cases of polio were reported worldwide in 2015, and health officials think the disease could be gone for good in 2016.

When the vaccines were created in the 1950s, polio affected hundreds of thousands of people around the globe every year. UNICEF is aiming to stop all transmissions of wild polio next year, and if successful, it will be the second human disease to be eradicated; smallpox was the first to be eliminated, with the last case reported in 1977. Nigeria, once a hotbed for the disease, has gone more than one year without any new cases, and because of that, the World Health Organization said for the first time ever, polio transmission has stopped in Africa. "This is a really major step forward in the effort to eradicate polio from the world," WHO adviser Kate O'Brien told NPR. The fact that polio has been halted in Nigeria is "absolutely massive," she said.

Now, Afghanistan and Pakistan are the only countries left where transmission of the disease hasn't been completely stopped, with 51 cases of wild polio reported in the two nations in 2015. Until polio is eradicated in Afghanistan and Pakistan, children will still have to be vaccinated around the globe for at least three years to ensure the disease doesn't make a comeback. "This is a virus that is fighting for its life," O'Brien said. "It is going to find people and places that are not vaccinated. It's going to find a way to move and it's going to find those places that are vulnerable."

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Catherine Garcia

Catherine Garcia is night editor for Her writing and reporting has appeared in Entertainment Weekly and, The New York Times, The Book of Jezebel, and other publications. A Southern California native, Catherine is a graduate of the University of Redlands and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.