|Press Release WHO/72
3 December 1999
3 December: World Disability Day
WHO, UNICEF and ROTARY INTERNATIONAL LAUNCH EMERGENCY APPEAL FOR POLIO VACCINE
GENEVA, 3 December -- On World Disability Day, leaders in the global effort to eradicate polio issued a joint emergency appeal to help rid the world of the paralysing disease. As part of a fast-track approach to eradicate polio by the end of year 2000, additional vaccination campaigns have been scheduled requiring extra doses of polio vaccine worth US$ 50 million.
Before the polio vaccine was introduced, poliomyelitis was a major cause of disability worldwide. Last year, 450 million children were vaccinated against polio during mass campaigns as part of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. This year, member states voted unanimously to accelerate the polio initiative to meet the target. The number of vaccination campaigns carried out in India alone to immunize more than 130 million children under five is being doubled. But the acceleration campaigns in other countries of South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa are threatened by insufficient funds for vaccine.
Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Ms Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and Mr Carl-Wilhelm Stenhammar, former Director at Rotary International today made an extraordinary appeal to donor governments to come forward with the necessary funding for the additional 700 million polio vaccine doses still needed for next year.
"We have a window of opportunity to eradicate polio forever," said Dr Brundtland. "We are seizing that opportunity and accelerating the campaign in the next 12 months to deliver a polio-free world to the children of the 21st century. On this World Disability Day, we urge donors to invest in the Polio Eradication Initiative which will bring annual savings of 1.5 billion dollars to tackle other disabilities."
Less than fifty countries are the key to success. These include ten priority countries that account for most of the world's polio cases: Afghanistan, Angola, DR Congo, Somalia and Sudan (countries at war), and Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria and Pakistan (reservoirs where transmission is particularly intense).
"This is the last big push against polio," said Ms Bellamy. "We are on the verge of consigning to history a disease which has terrified communities and devastated countless lives. Donors have an opportunity now, at modest cost, to honour our global commitment and complete one of the major medical miracles of our time -- the eradication of a terrible disabling disease."
The speed with which countries are accelerating their national plans to achieve eradication has created the funding shortfall for vaccine.
"We support the World Health Organization and UNICEF today in this appeal and encourage further contributions to activities that will aid in the acceleration to eradicate polio," said Mr Stenhammar. "Rotary's 20-year financial commitment to this end will reach US $500 million by 2005, the time at which the world will be officially certified free from polio."
WHO, Rotary International and UNICEF are spearheading the global campaign to eradicate polio by the end of the year 2000, with official certification in 2005. National Immunization Days -- which mobilize vast numbers of volunteers, medical teams and health agencies to vaccinate entire populations of children -- have been conducted in over 120 countries. Just a few drops of vaccine guarantee a child life-long protection against the disease.
Core partners include the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the UN Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Bank, the governments of Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK and USA, and corporate partners.
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