Press Release WHO/69
9 October 1998
MULTINATIONAL OPERATION LAUNCHED TO ELIMINATE EUROPE'S REMAINING POLIOVIRUS RESERVOIR
Copenhagen/Geneva - The World Health Organization (WHO) today announced that a major step forward has been made in eliminating a major shared-country reservoir of wild poliovirus, which is in the area bordering Turkey, Iraq, Islamic Republic of Iran and Syria. It is also the last wild poliovirus reservoir in WHO's European (EURO) Region.
Through a unique inter-regional collaboration between the EURO and the Eastern Mediterranean (EMRO) Regions of WHO, 2.3 million children under five years of age in adjoining areas of these four countries are targeted to receive additional polio vaccine. An intensive campaign is being carried out door-to-door in two rounds between 4 and 12 October and 7 and15 November, covering eleven provinces in Turkey, four provinces in Islamic Republic of Iran, nine governorates in Iraq and the border governorates of Syria.
Since January 1998, 13 cases of poliomyelitis have been confirmed in four provinces in southeastern Turkey. No polio cases have been confirmed in any of the other 50 countries in the WHO European Region.
"The global importance of this campaign cannot be overestimated," says Dr Bruce Aylward from WHO headquarters in Geneva, Coordinator of the global polio eradication initiative. "If it is successful, the poliovirus will survive only in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia."
The door-to-door campaign, or "mopping up", will mobilize tens of thousands of health workers and volunteers. The Ministries of Health of the four countries are responsible for implementing the campaign. WHO, Rotary International, UNICEF and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are providing funding and technical support. "As has been demonstrated numerous times, borders are meaningless for viruses," commented Dr George Oblapenko, the WHO-EURO officer responsible for polio eradication. "Viruses can spread to different parts of the world within hours. As long as poliovirus has not been completely eradicated from Turkey and neighbouring countries, there is a significant risk that polio will reappear in Europe or elsewhere in the world."
Dr M H Wahdan, the WHO-EMRO officer responsible for polio eradication, commented that even following successful campaigns, there is a strong need to continue regular routine immunization coverage and national immunization days (NIDs), and increased disease surveillance to ensure accurate detection and reporting of cases, so that poliovirus is kept out of polio-free countries.
WHO launched its global polio eradication initiative in 1988. WHO's major partners in this initiative are Rotary International, UNICEF, and the governments of Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. Polio cases have been reduced by virtually 90% since the inception of the initiative. Eradication is targeted for the year 2000.
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