|Press Release WHO/38
7 July 1999
NEW PARTNERS JOIN MAJOR OFFENSIVE TO RID THE WORLD OF POLIO IN 18 MONTHS
LONDON --Faced with the massive polio outbreak in Angola, new partners have joined forces with United Nations agencies to ensure the success of the campaign to rid the world of the crippling disease by the end of the year 2000. Polio would be the second disease ever to be eradicated after smallpox.
At London' s National Portrait Gallery (July 7), the world-renowned British photographer Lord Snowdon and the diamond mining and trading company De Beers joined WHO and UNICEF at a press conference to launch the final assault on polio and commit the disease to the history books forever. WHO announced that De Beers had joined the coalition for polio eradication -- the first corporate sector partner to make a major financial donation to the polio eradication effort through WHO.
With the target date for global polio eradication just 18 months away, massive vaccination campaigns will be conducted over the next few months -- particularly in countries where there is conflict or intense transmission of poliovirus.
"The outbreak in Angola has shown us the tragic consequences of failing to vaccinate every child," said Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, WHO Director-General in a video statement to the conference. "We will always regret that we did not reach in time the paralyzed children who have been captured in the pictures by Lord Snowdon. But the tragedy has strengthened our resolve to ensure that these are some of the world's very last cases."
At the press conference, Lord Snowdon -- who himself had polio -- unveiled portraits of children caught in the Angola outbreak, and those fortunate enough to be vaccinated during an emergency campaign there. In May, he travelled to war-torn Angola, where the outbreak has claimed over 1,000 victims. At the press conference, he made a moving appeal to governments to step up their efforts and rid the world of the disease.
"I hope my pictures help send a strong message to governments and donors around the world so that future generations of children can grow up without the risk of polio," said Lord Snowdon. "I also hope my portraits give the polio sufferers the dignity they deserve." A major retrospective of Lord Snowdon's photographs will open at the National Portrait Gallery early next year.
Welcomed by the Government of Angola, De Beers has made a multi-year donation of US$ 2.7 million to help fund National Immunization Days in Angola, which the Government plans to conduct during 1999 and 2000. 3.3 million children will be vaccinated in six rounds of nationwide immunization days.
Dr Brundtland said: "De Beers has joined forces with the Ministry of Health in Angola, WHO and its partners to eradicate polio in Angola -- now a priority country in the eradication effort. This partnership demonstrates the WHO we are striving for -- a responsive and dynamic agency forging long-term private and public partnerships in the interests of better health. When I took office last year, I said WHO would reach out to partners in the private sector. WHO has entered a new era in which the corporate sector has a vital and active role to play."
Mr Nicky Oppenheimer, Chairman of De Beers, said: "If anything were needed to bring home to us the urgency and the importance of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative it is the fact of this outbreak. I am proud that WHO wants to use our partnership as an example for other companies to follow. This is indeed a project worthy of the Millennium because .. it is focused on children who are the future of our world."
WHO's principal long-term partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative are UNICEF, Rotary International and health ministries. They are joined by development banks, other UN organizations and donor governments. These include Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, UK and US.
Reaching out to new partners is part of the acceleration plan to meet the shortfall for global eradication, estimated to be US $500 million. The annual savings in direct costs of polio eradication will be US $1.5 billion.
"We have a narrow window of opportunity to rid the world of polio forever," said Dr Bruce Aylward, WHO's Coordinator of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. "Accelerating activities in the face of a disappearing disease with competing priorities is particularly challenging. We must not lose momentum now. Wild poliovirus -- fast, efficient and powerful -- will be opportunistic about any slowdown in our efforts."
"The economic, health and peace dividends of this initiative will be enormous," said Dr David Alnwick, Chief of Health Section, UNICEF New York. "UNICEF and WHO are getting to children in war-torn countries who have never before received health care."
Until the launch of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in 1988, polio was one of the world's leading causes of disability. Since then, the number of reported cases worldwide has fallen by 80 percent in just ten years to 6,000. It has been eradicated from the Americas, has gone from Europe, the Pacific Rim including China, and large parts of Africa. Remaining areas of transmission are concentrated on the Indian sub-continent, West and Central Africa (mainly Angola, DR Congo and Nigeria), and the Horn of Africa.
Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus which mainly affects children under three years of age and can cause paralysis in a matter of hours. There is no cure -- the best solution is prevention through immunization: a few drops of a vaccine will protect a child for life.
For further information & Lord Snowdon's photographs, contact Becky Owens, WHO, + 41 22 791 3832, firstname.lastname@example.org, in Geneva or +41 79 217 3472; Colin Martin, +44 181 994 1639 or +44 7931 560141, in London. Broadcasters should contact Chris Powell, WHO, +41 22 791 2888 or email@example.com in Geneva, Colin Martin, or Greg di Stefano, JWT, New York, +1 212 210 7859 firstname.lastname@example.org for B-roll. All WHO Press Releases, Fact Sheets and Features as well as other information on this subject can be obtained on Internet on the WHO home page http://www.who.ch/