WHO News

Eradication of polio threatened by global instability

Only 537 cases of poliomyelitis were reported globally in 2001 (data as of 11 April 2002). In 1988, when the polio eradication effort began, the disease was paralysing about 1000 children every day. Global eradication of polio is within reach, but success is by no means inevitable. Stopping transmission of the virus means vaccinating every under-five-year-old who could be exposed to it. The three zones with the highest poliovirus transmission are northern India, Afghanistan/Pakistan, and Nigeria/Niger.

The Technical Consultative Group (TCG) for global polio eradication, which completed its annual review of the programme on 12 April, warned that the campaign could become a casualty of recent global events. In Afghanistan, for example, the polio surveillance system has suffered badly during the last few months. The 10 remaining endemic countries, in order of highest to lowest transmission, are Afghanistan, Angola, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, and Sudan.

The last vestiges of polio must be extinguished now. Any delay will jeopardize the success of the entire effort, the TGC concluded. Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of WHO, endorsed the plea. "I urge the world to finish the job. Eradicate polio while we still have the opportunity," she said. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is spearheaded by WHO, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and UNICEF. Rotary International, a service organization with over a million members in 163 countries, has contributed US$ 462 million to polio eradication so far, and is pushing its members for another 80 million to help finish the job. "If we raise this money now, we will be saving all of humankind from this disease for all time, and that's priceless," says Vicente Giay, the Chairman of the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International.

As this issue of the Bulletin goes to press, mass immunization campaigns are going on in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, India, Somalia and Sudan as part of their final push to eliminate the virus. National immunization days are planned for all the endemic countries. "We owe it to our children to get the job done", says Carol Bellamy of UNICEF.

World Health Organization Genebra - Genebra - Switzerland