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History of polio

In the early 20th century, polio was one of the most feared diseases in industrialized countries, paralysing thousands of children every year. Soon after the introduction of effective vaccines in the 1950s and 1960s however, polio was brought under control and practically eliminated as a public health problem in these countries.

It took somewhat longer for polio to be recognized as a major problem in developing countries. Lameness surveys during the 1970s revealed that the disease was also prevalent in developing countries. As a result, during the 1970s routine immunization was introduced worldwide as part of national immunization programmes, helping to control the disease in many developing countries.

In 1988, when the Global Polio Eradication Initiative began, polio paralysed more than 1000 children worldwide every day. Since then, 2.5 billion children have been immunized against polio thanks to the cooperation of more than 200 countries and 20 million volunteers, backed by an international investment of more than US$ 8 billion.

Today, polio has been eliminated from most of the world and only four countries remain endemic. In 2009, fewer than 2000 cases were reported for the entire year.

Use this interactive timeline to trace the history of polio from 1580 B.C. to the present.

1580–1350 BC

An Egyptian stele portrays a priest with a withered leg, suggesting that polio has existed for thousands of years.