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Polio Threatens to Reemerge Worldwide
Ten polio-free countries see resurgence in 2004 and 10 more this year
Emmanuel Njela Nfor (whales)     Print Article 
Published 2005-09-15 09:52 (KST)   
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative, spearheaded by the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF, registered stunning successes by cutting down cases of poliomyelitis (polio) from 350,000 in 1988 to just 1163 by September this year. Just six countries-- Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Niger and Egypt are known to be endemic.

These unprecedented achievements, however, should not by any means cause fighters against the disease to rest on their laurels following fresh facts released by the UN World Health Organization and related bodies. Polio can damage the nervous system and cause paralysis.

The paralysis of a 15-month-old girl in Mogadishu, Somalia, in July reported to be caused by poliomyelitis (polio), revealed the struggle to wipe out polio was far from over. Somalia was believed to be polio-free since 2002.

The WHO reported that 10 countries previously considered polio-free had been re-infected by the end of 2004 and 10 more this year, mainly from Africa--Somalia, Angola, Ethiopia, Chad, Sudan, Mali, Eritrea Cameroon, Indonesia and Yemen.

Most reports have cited northern Nigeria, where local authorities stifled immunization programs in 2003, to be the origin of the recent spread, though that of Somalia remains undetermined. A senior WHO official Tuesday told the BBC that polio is known to have spread from Nigeria to about 17 countries.

Campaigns to wipe out polio were resisted in northern Nigeria because of rumors generated that the vaccines where contaminated with substances that could sterilize and reduce the population.

Datti Ahmed, a medical doctor and senior president of Nigeria's Supreme Council for Sharia law, told the BBC in Oct. 2003, "There were strong reasons to believe that the polio immunization vaccine was contaminated with anti-fertility drugs, contaminated with certain virus that cause HIV/Aids, contaminated with Simian virus that are likely to cause cancers."

However, the stalemate was resolved and immunization restarted, though not without consequences. With Nigeria having the highest cases, polio had to spread to a lot more countries in the region and even beyond to those that were polio-free.

With rapid immunization causing a major breakthrough and bringing the situation under control, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, injected with a US$25 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other bodies, will again go on the offensive.

The ambitious campaign to run from Sept. 28 to November targets over 34 million children in eight countries, mainly around the Horn of Africa -- Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, and parts of Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Given that polio has been eradicated in some of the richest countries, including the USA thanks to immunization, health officials think same degree of success can be replicated in the developing world with more effort -- in the form of cooperation and donations.

According to a hopeful Patty Stonesifer, Co-chair and President of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation this is a crucial point, "Today, as a resurgence of polio threatens to roll back the amazing progress of the past 20 years, it is more important than ever that governments and donors support the final push to eradicate polio."

With smallpox having been eradicated in the late 1970s it is hoped this will be the second time in human history to wipe out a human decease through immunization.
Thumbnail credit: WHO
©2005 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Emmanuel Njela Nfor

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