23 March 2000
WHO'S GOODWILL AMBASSADOR
FOR POLIO ERADICATION
GENEVA/MIAMI-- Martina Hingis, the world's number one ranked women's tennis player, today accepted the title of World Health Organization (WHO) Goodwill Ambassador for Polio Eradication. In her new role, she launched "Match Point Against Polio," a campaign to raise awareness and funds to help eradicate polio from the face of the earth. Polio is a highly infectious disease which can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours.
"As WHO Ambassador, I will do everything I can to smash this frightening disease off the planet," said Hingis. "I think all children should have the chance to be active, to use their legs to run around the playground, to swim, kick a ball, or play tennis," she said at a press conference on the opening day of the Ericsson Open, a world-class tennis tournament in Miami, Florida, United States.
"Match Point Against Polio" will promote polio eradication and encourage large public support and participation throughout the year, particularly at the Grand Slam tennis tournaments. These include the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. As part of her campaign, Ms Hingis will travel to a polio-endemic country where she will help immunize children against the disease.
The international polio eradication effort, launched in 1988, is spearheaded by WHO, Rotary International, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). Its ultimate aim is to certify the world as polio-free by the end of 2005. Owing to substantial progress towards eradication, polio is now concentrated in 30 countries in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
Before the press conference, Ms Hingis was joined by 30 children, each one representing the 30 remaining polio-endemic countries. She lobbed signed tennis balls out to the 2000 children in the audience, who were attending the Ericsson Open's "Kids Day."
"Ms Hingis is a world champion. Her enthusiasm, determination and commitment to achieve perfection are the qualities which will bring success in polio eradication. She will make a difference in this worldwide effort," said Dr Ciro de Quadros at the press conference. Dr de Quadros is Director, Division of Vaccines and Immunization, Pan American Health Organization, WHO's Regional Office for the Americas. He was at the forefront of successfully eradicating polio from the Americas.
The last case of polio was found in the Americas in 1991, following a massive campaign involving international organizations, national and local governments, citizens, sports clubs, educators, local health workers and countless volunteers. The region was certified polio-free in 1994.
"Success against polio in the Americas indicates the disease can be eradicated worldwide, " said Dr de Quadros. "WHO's European region has been polio-free for over one year. We are on the verge of polio-free certification in the Western Pacific region which includes China, whose population exceeds one billion. Now, we are increasing the momentum to wipe polio out of Africa and the Indian sub-continent," he reported.
Major partners in the Polio Eradication Initiative include technical agencies (e.g. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention); private foundations (e.g. United Nations Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation); development banks (e.g. World Bank); donor governments (e.g. Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK and USA), and corporate partners (e.g. De Beers and Aventis Pasteur).
Media accreditation is required to attend this event. This can be arranged through: Laurie Elkin, Manager, Ericsson Open Media Center, Tel.: +1 305 365 3291, Fax: +1 305 365 3208.
Broadcast Journalists: A video news release will be available at 14:00 EST or 19:00 GMT on the following parameters: INTERNATIONAL: Sat. NSS 806, Orb Pos: 319.5 E., Transponder: 12B, DL Pol: RHCP, DL Freq.: 1301.50 L-Band / 3848.50 C Band, FEC ¾, Symbol Rate: 18.800, Digital Channel: 34, Compression: SA PowerVu/MPEG2-DVB Compliant; DOMESTIC: Sat. Telstar 6, Orb Pos: 93.0 Degrees W., Transponder: 09, DL Pol: Vertical, DL Freq: 3880.0 C-Band. Advance B-Roll will be available at the event and can also be arranged through Danielle Suter, WHO, Geneva, Tel.: + 41 22 791 2584. Further information: Journalists can contact Christine McNab, WHO, in Miami, Mobile Tel: +41 79 217 3427, firstname.lastname@example.org David Schwab, Octagon Athlete Representation, + 1 703 905 3363; in Miami, Mobile Tel.: +1 703 980 1983, David.Schwab@octagon.com, Daniel Epstein, PAHO (WHO) in Washington, +1 202 974 3459, email@example.com, Becky Owens, WHO in Geneva, +41 22 791 3832, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Gaynor Norfolk, WHO in Geneva, +41 22 791 2657, email@example.com
Global Polio Eradication Initiative: For more information, see http://www.who.int/vaccines-polio
All WHO Press Releases, Fact Sheets and Features as well as other information on this subject can be obtained on the Internet on the WHO home page http://www.who.int