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History of polio

In the early 20th century, polio was one of the most feared diseases in industrialized countries, paralysing hundreds of 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, more than 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$ 9 billion.
There are now only 3 countries that have never stopped polio transmission and global incidence of polio cases has decreased by 99% - in 2013, 416 cases were reported for the entire year as opposed to over 350,000 in 1988.

In February 2012, India, long-regarded as the nation facing the greatest challenges to eradication, was removed from the list of polio-endemic countries, convincing doubters that global polio eradication is feasible.

There has also been success in eradicating certain strains of the virus; of the three types of wild polioviruses (WPVs), the last case of type 2 was reported in 1999 and the last case of type 3 in November 2012.

However, tackling the last 1% of polio cases has still proved to be difficult. Conflict, political instability, hard-to-reach populations, and poor infrastructure continue to pose challenges to eradicating the disease. Each country offers a unique set of challenges which require local solutions. Thus, in 2013 the Global Polio Eradication Initiative launched its most comprehensive and ambitious plan for completely eradicating polio. It is a 5 year all-encompassing strategic plan that clearly outlines measures for eliminating polio in its last strongholds and for maintaining a polio-free world.

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.