WHO says polio could be wiped out in a year

The World Health Organization has expressed confidence that the world could be rid of polio within 12 months.

"We absolutely need to keep the pressure up, but we think we could reach the point where we have truly interrupted the transmission at the end of the year or the end of the low season [winter] next year," The Guardian quoted WHO's director of polio eradication Michel Zaffran as saying.

The assertion comes in the face of challenges in Pakistan and Afghanistan where the polio virus was still endemic.

If the UN were to succeed in its goal, the polio virus would become the only second human-hosted virus to be eradicated since smallpox ended in 1980.

This year had so far seen only nine cases of the virus, two in Afghanistan and seven in Pakistan.

"It is going to be an extraordinary achievement. This has been an ongoing effort since 1988. We started with 150 countries and we are now just down to two countries and nine cases [so far this year]," said Zaffran.

The global polio eradication initiative which launched in 1988 had been able to save thousands of children from across the world from wild polio virus that paralysed them.

There was much scepticism among experts given the fact that prior initiatives had failed to hit eradication goals, such as the drive against malaria starting in 1955 and against measles in 1977. Nevertheless the push to eliminate the virus that paralyses about 250,000 children a year continues to gain momentum.

The initiative delivered major gains over the next decade, but the effort failed to hit its 2000 goal. With the Gates Foundation joining in, in 2005, however, the effort received a major boost. The effort drew billions of dollars by way of contributions, far exceeding the financial contributions of groups like Rotary International.

The foundation contributed $1.8 billion in 2013 with the aim of eradicating polio by 2018. Gates last year projected eradication of the virus by 2019 and earlier this year said that the last case could be seen this year.

''We need some good execution and a little bit of luck,'' Gates said at the World Economic Forum in January.