Global health authorities said that a new strategy for ending polio worldwide aims to boost security for violence-plagued vaccine workers and halt all polio outbreaks by the end of next year.
The new plan, endorsed by the World Health Organization, is designed to capitalize on momentum against the crippling disease and formally declare all parts of the world polio-free by 2018.
But key hurdles include overcoming threats against vaccine workers in Nigeria and Pakistan and raising the $5.5 billion needed for the next six years of work, said experts from the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
The plan was announced Tuesday at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in the US capital.
Polio, once a worldwide scourge, is endemic in just three countries now and health officials said the new strategy looks to capitalize on momentum against the disease to finally put an end to it.
Despite recent lethal attacks on vaccine stations in Nigeria and Pakistan, those two countries and Afghanistan all made progress in vaccinating more people and reducing polio cases in 2012, the GPEI said.
Last year there were just 223 polio cases worldwide compared to 650 in 2011.
Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan are "on a trajectory to interrupt transmission by the end of 2014," the GPEI said in a statement.
"This will hold true if trends continue and current security challenges do not cause a prolonged or increased impact on operations."
Boosting security at vaccine stations, holding shorter and lower profile campaigns, working with Islamic community leaders to spread the word about the need for polio vaccination and stressing the neutrality of health workers are among the key elements of the plan to protect vaccine efforts.
Another major shift foreseen in the strategy is eliminating use of the oral vaccine that contains live poliovirus, because it can cause rare outbreaks, and replacing it with an inactivated virus that is delivered by a shot instead.
The strategy calls for that change to be complete by 2019 or 2020. However, it will require health authorities to find an affordable vaccine option and will entail more training for vaccination workers.