NEW DELHI/GENEVA/NEW YORK
In a strong turn-of-the-millennium appeal, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF
today urged leaders of countries where the final battle to eradicate polio is being waged
to give full co-operation to the global effort.
"We are on the verge of an historic public health victory--the
eradication of poliomyelitis--a disease that has caused untold suffering to millions of
children in all parts of the world," stated Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland,
Director-General of WHO, and Ms Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF, in a New
Year's letter to 30 heads of state in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. They said
the ultimate success of the drive to eliminate the disease now hinges on efforts underway
in those 30 countries, many of which are affected by conflict or are
'reservoirs' of poliovirus where transmission remains particularly intense.
Begun in 1988, the global initiative to eradicate polio by the end of
the year 2000 is spearheaded by WHO, Rotary International and UNICEF.
To win the battle against the disease, Dr Brundtland and Ms Bellamy
urged heads of state in the 30 countries to provide leadership for extra immunization
activities, to allocate sufficient resources to support National Immunization Days and
routine immunization and surveillance activities, to mobilize support for these efforts
from the national to the community level and to facilitate truces in areas affected by
In New Delhi, on her first official visit of the new century, Dr
Brundtland said India, which hosts 70 per cent of the world's remaining polio cases,
was key to successfully eradicating the disease world-wide by the end of the year 2000. Dr
Brundtland paid tribute to India's phenomenal efforts towards polio eradication at
the launch of the final campaign to eliminate the disease.
"In the year 2000the target for polio eradicationwe
have a window of opportunity to defeat this disease forever," said Dr Brundtland at
the launch of the Final Push for Polio, attended by over 300 delegates including Dr
Shanmugham, India's Union Minister for Health, ambassadors from key polio-endemic
countries and representatives from core agencies in the initiative.
Dr Brundtland was joined by 30 children who have
poliorepresenting each of the 30 remaining polio-endemic countrieswho each lit
a lamp of remembrance for polio victims.
In New York, Ms Bellamy urged a renewed international effort to wipe
out the last traces of the disease. "As long as a single new case of polio exists,
children everywhere are at risk of this disease," she said. "We must all work
together to bequeath to our children a polio-free world in the 21st
Rotary International President Carlo Ravizza reiterated the support of
1.2 million Rotarians world-wide to the eradication effort. In India alone, Rotary
mobilized 150,000 volunteers for national immunization days.
In their New Year's letter to the 30 heads of state, Dr Brundtland
and Ms Bellamy said important obstacles had already been overcome in the fight against
polio: "Countries and territories have set aside their differences for the sake of
the health of their children."
"Warring factions have laid down arms and allowed administration
of polio vaccine to all children, irrespective of their origins and affiliations. What is
most needed now is the personal commitment of political leaders in the 30 remaining
polio-infected countries to see the effort through to a successful conclusion."
Dr Brundtland and Ms Bellamy also noted significant achievements since
the launch of the polio eradication initiative in 1988:
For further information from WHO, please contact: Valery
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for advance B-roll and slides of National Immunization Days in India and around the world.
Radio interviews on polio by the WHO Director-General and WHO spokespersons can be
downloaded from the WHO web-site from 6 January 2000 at http://www.who.int/multimedia. For further
information from UNICEF's Division of Communication, please contact: Claudia Rader,
New York, +1 (212) 326-7566; Alfred Ironside, New York, +1 (212) 326-7261;
Marie Heuzé, Geneva, +41 22 909 5523.