The eradication of crippling poliomyelitis is 99% complete according
to figures released today by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
In 2000, there were no more than 3500 cases of polio
reported worldwide*, a 99% decrease from the 350 000 annual cases
estimated in 1988 when the Initiative was launched. In just 12 months
the number of polio cases has been more than halved, from 7141 in 1999.
This reduction is a result of the World Health Assembly’s call in 1999
to accelerate eradication activities, including increased rounds of
National Immunization Days (NIDs) and use of a house-to-house vaccine
delivery strategy enabling vaccination teams to find and immunize more
Last year a record 550 million children under five
years were immunized during intensified NIDs in 82 countries. This
included India, where 152 million children were vaccinated in three
days, and a synchronized effort across West and Central Africa, which
immunized 76 million children in 17 countries.
The partners behind the Initiative hailed the major
progress, which keeps the campaign on track for a world certified
polio-free by 2005. But they warned that the biggest challenges of the
programme lie ahead: accessing all children, closing a US$ 400 million
funding gap, and maintaining political commitment in the face of a
"Victory over the poliovirus is within
sight," said Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of the
World Health Organization. "We must now close in on the remaining
strongholds of the disease and use all possible resources to extinguish
polio. We ask that everyone involved maintain the focus on achieving
this historical milestone in international public health."
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is
spearheaded by WHO, Rotary International, the U.S. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC), and the United Nations Children’s Fund
The poliovirus now circulates in no more than 20
countries, down from 30 in 1999 and 125 in 1988. These are mainly in
South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. They are: Afghanistan, Angola,
Bangladesh, Benin, the Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Côte D’Ivoire,
the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, India,
Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and Sudan.
Poliovirus transmission is at very low levels in 11 of these countries.
"The key now is urgently accessing and
vaccinating the children we haven’t been able to reach because of war,
isolation and lack of infrastructure," said Carol Bellamy,
Executive Director of UNICEF. "It’s essential that warring
parties and international mediators give priority to cease-fires that
allow us to get polio vaccine to these children. Children should be seen
as zones of peace." Added Bellamy: "By reaching into conflict
zones we are not only stopping polio, we are putting these children on
the map for other essential services."
Some of the most intense poliovirus transmission is
in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This summer, these
countries will join the Republic of Congo-Brazzaville to synchronize
their National Immunization Days for the first time. The effort will
emphasize immunization of children in conflict-affected and cross-border
regions. The Initiative relies on warring factions laying down their
weapons – "Days of Tranquillity" – to allow polio
vaccination teams to safely do their work.
In order to stop transmission of the poliovirus in
all countries, additional funding is urgently needed. A total of US$ 1
billion is required to ensure delivery of more than six billion doses of
oral polio vaccine (OPV) to 600 million children around the world by
2005. Of this there is a US$ 400 million funding gap. To help meet this
funding challenge, The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International and the
United Nations Foundation are collaborating to secure funds from the
private sector, philanthropists and foundations.
"This money must be found – there is no option
here," said Frank Devlyn, President, Rotary International. "We
have worked extremely hard to come this far. Polio eradication will
benefit all children, for all time. We owe it to this and future
generations to raise these funds and finish the job. I call on all
potential donors to invest in the eradication of this crippling
Rotary International, the volunteer arm of the global
partnership, has members in 163 countries and is the leading private
sector partner in the Initiative. So far the service club has
contributed US$ 407 million to the effort since 1985, and will commit a
total of US$ 500 million by 2005.
Given the magnitude of the polio eradication effort,
political commitment to achieving the 2005 certification target is
required from the highest levels in polio-endemic and polio-free
countries. In addition to remaining vigilant against the disease,
polio-free countries must begin the process of containing all laboratory
stocks of the virus. In total, tens of thousands of laboratories
worldwide will be searched for the virus.
Until global eradication, no child is safe from
polio. For example, in August 2000 an imported poliovirus from Angola
caused a major outbreak on the small West African island nation of Cape
Verde, which had been polio-free for years. This outbreak paralysed 44
people and killed 17.
"The sad outcome of this importation reaffirms
that until all children everywhere are protected, every child is at
risk," said Dr Jeffrey Koplan, the Director of the US Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention. "This experience highlights the
need to maintain recommended levels of routine immunization, and ensure
certification-standard surveillance for polio cases in every
Poliomyelitis (polio) is a highly infectious disease
caused by a virus that mainly affects children under three years of age.
It invades the nervous system and can cause total paralysis in a matter
of hours. The virus enters the body through the mouth and multiplies in
the intestine. Initial symptoms are fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting,
stiffness in the neck and pain in the limbs. One in 200 infections leads
to irreversible paralysis (usually in the legs). Between five and ten
per cent of people infected with polio die when their breathing muscles
As there is no cure for polio, the best treatment is
preventive. A few drops of a powerful vaccine protects a child for life.
* Note: Laboratory results for the year 2000 are
still being finalized. Please see www.polioeradication.org
for weekly updates.
Today the Global Polio
Eradication Initiative is also launching a series of three 30-second
public service announcements (PSAs). These television spots, in English,
French and Spanish, feature polio eradication supporters such as Nelson
Mandela, Bill Gates and Claudia Schiffer. A specially produced PSA
includes Olympic gold medalist and world running champions Noah Ngeny
and Daniel Komen of Kenya.