Poliomyelitis (polio) is a highly infectious viral disease caused by three poliovirus serotypes (types 1, 2, or 3). It mostly affects children under five years of age.

The virus is transmitted through contaminated food and water, and multiplies in the intestine. Many infected people have no symptoms but excrete the virus in their feces. This contributes to virus spread by the fecal–oral route, especially in settings with poor sanitation and health infrastructure.

In a small number of cases (one in 200, according to WHO), infection progresses to irreversible paralysis and may lead to death. Initial symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness in the neck, and pain in the limbs (1).

No cure for polio exists, and immunization remains the only method of prevention. There are two types of vaccine that protect against polio: inactivated polio vaccine (IPV, "Salk vaccine") and oral polio vaccine (OPV, "Sabin vaccine"). The progress that has been made in controlling polio is largely a result of mass immunization campaigns.

Given the continued risk of polio, the global community has recently stepped up efforts to eliminate the disease. In May 2012, the World Health Assembly adopted a resolution declaring polio eradication a programmatic emergency and called for the development of a strategy through 2018. Subsequently the three remaining polio-endemic countries (Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan) adopted national emergency action plans (1). 

In April 2013, the Polio Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan 2013-2018 was presented at the Global Vaccine Summit at Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates; this is the first plan to tackle all types of polio simultaneously.

The potential obstacles to the success of this plan in resource-poor countries include: weak health systems and logistics, shortage of skilled health workers, and the lack of national data. AMP has been working with these countries for more than 40 years to overcome these challenges and to help eradicate polio.

For more information on AMP's work, see AMP: Fighting Polio Since 1972


1. World Health Organization. Poliomyelitis, Fact Sheet N° 114; April 2013. [Internet]. 2013. Available from: www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs114/en/index.html