Global Polio Eradication Hinges on Four Countries


Although not a word widely known by children in today's developed world, the word poliomyelitis continues to instill fear in parents in Africa and Asia as the crippling disease continues to plague children in 4 polio-endemic countries and threatens children everywhere who are not immunized against the disease.

Polio free countries seek to protect themselves
Geneva, Switzerland, 12 October 2006 –

The world's success in eradicating polio now depends on four countries – Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan – according to the Advisory Committee on Polio Eradication (ACPE), the independent oversight body of the eradication effort.

With a vaccine that can protect children twice as fast and new laboratory processes that halve the time needed to detect the virus, most countries that recently suffered outbreaks are again polio-free. In parts of the four endemic countries, however, the ability to reach all children with vaccine is improving only slowly, and polio-free countries are considering new measures to help protect themselves from future outbreaks.

"With a more effective monovalent vaccine and accelerated lab processes for identifying poliovirus, these countries have the best tools we've ever had," noted Dr Stephen Cochi, Chair of the ACPE and Senior Adviser to the Director of the Global Immunization Division at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention..

"Eradicating polio is no longer a technical issue alone. Success is now more a question of the political will to ensure effective administration at all levels so that all children get vaccine." The office of Afghan President Hamid Karzai has already taken direct oversight of polio vaccinations, following the sharp increase in cases in the Southern Region of Afghanistan.

Given that all children paralysed by polio in the world this year were infected by virus originating in one of the four endemic countries, polio-free countries are now taking new measures to protect themselves. The Ministry of Health of Saudi Arabia, for example, will be enforcing stringent polio immunization requirements for the upcoming pilgrimage to Mecca.

"Polio eradication hinges on vaccine supply, community acceptance, funding and political will. The first three are in place. The last will make the difference," said Dr Robert Scott, Chair of Rotary International's PolioPlus Committee, speaking on behalf of the spearheading partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. Rotary is the top private-sector contributor and volunteer arm of the Initiative, having contributed US$ 600 million and countless volunteer hours in the field since 1985.

The ACPE advised the four polio-endemic countries to set realistic target dates for stopping transmission, noting that improvements in reaching all children in these areas have been only incremental, and that these countries will take more than 12 months to end polio.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is spearheaded by national governments, the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF.

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The success of the effort to rid the world of polio now depends largely on "political will" in the four remaining polio-endemic countries according to the Advisory Committee on Polio Eradication (ACPE).

The APCE, which provides independent oversight on the fight against polio, addressed the media on 12 October during its third annual review meeting at World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva.

Polio-endemic Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan have all reported new cases of polio this year. India is experiencing a challenging outbreak that has so far infected 386 children, most of them in the state of Uttar Pradesh. In response, health officials and politicians in the four countries are pledging renewed commitment to the goal of eradication.

"Polio eradication hinges on vaccine supply, community acceptance, funding, and political will," said Robert Scott, chair of Rotary's International PolioPlus Committee. "The first three are in place. The last will make the difference."

"With a more effective monovalent vaccine and accelerated lab processes for identifying poliovirus, these countries have the best tools we've ever had," noted Stephen Cochi, ACPE chair and senior adviser to the director of the global immunization division at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Eradicating polio is no longer a technical issue alone. Success is now more a question of the political will to ensure effective administration at all levels so that all children get the vaccine."

The most serious setback to the goal of completely eliminating the poliovirus occurred when some states in Nigeria boycotted the oral polio vaccine for 11 months. That boycott ended in 2004, but the polio outbreak it triggered eventually reinfected 25 countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. After aggressive immunization campaigns, however, most of the affected countries have since stamped out the imported cases of polio.

ACPE officials noted that several governments are already showing the political resolve needed to finish the job of eradicating polio.
For example, Afghan President Hamid Kharzai moved polio immunization directly under his office, after a spike in new polio cases in southern Afghanistan. And Saudi Arabia now requires proof of polio immunization for Muslims traveling to Mecca for this year's pilgrimage.

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