27 May 2000
MARTINA HINGIS TEAMS UP WITH FRENCH WHEELCHAIR TENNIS CHAMPION TO PLAY THE MATCH POINT AGAINST POLIO
GENEVA/PARIS—The number one ranked women's tennis player, Martina Hingis, and Thierry Caillier, the former French wheelchair tennis champion, urged tennis fans to support the global effort to eradicate polio during the weekend before the French Open.
As part of a public awareness campaign called "Match Point Against Polio", Ms Hingis and Mr Caillier gave a special tennis clinic to local children and educated them about the crippling disease. Polio is a highly infectious disease which can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours. Wild poliovirus importations, like the one into France in 1995, demonstrate that all children are at risk until every child in the world is immunized against the disease.
Earlier this year, Ms Hingis was appointed World Health Organization (WHO) Goodwill Ambassador for polio eradication, and launched "Match Point Against Polio". The campaign will raise funds and awareness and will catalyze public participation for eradication of the disease. The campaign includes televised public service announcements to be broadcast on Eurosport and other stations around the world, a special website (http://www.polioeradication.org), and a series of events linked to this year’s Grand Slam tennis tournaments.
As Goodwill Ambassador, Ms Hingis is playing a key role in the global effort to certify the world as polio-free by 2005. Currently, polio is endemic in 30 countries, many of which are ravaged by conflict and are amongst the poorest in the world.
"I have travelled to Nepal and I’ve seen the difficult conditions people have to cope with. Things like poverty andunsafe water, as well as disease. Eradicating polio means parents, who have so much else to worry about, can be sure their children will never be paralyzed by this terrible disease," Ms Hingis said.
Once ranked sixth in the world in wheelchair tennis, Thierry Caillier joined Ms Hingis in her appeal to support polio eradication. Mr Caillier was paralyzed by polio in 1962, when he was 15 months old, in his hometown near Bordeaux, France.
"I have lived with this disease for almost 40 years. My life has not been what it could have been had I received polio vaccine as a baby. This crippling disease must be wiped off the planet. It is crucial to vaccinate children everywhere so their lives are not ruined before they have begun," said Mr. Caillier.
The last polio case in France was in 1989. In Europe, the last case was found 18 months ago in November 1998, when Melik Minas was paralyzed by the disease in Turkey. Now the WHO European Region is on track to be certified polio-free by 2002. The Americas were certified in 1994 and the WHO Western Pacific Region should be certified polio-free later this year.
Still, polio continues to paralyze children in parts of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. It is also endemic in sub-Saharan Africa, including Francophone countries such as Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea, Mali, Niger and Senegal. Angola and Nigeria are also key countriesin the eradication strategy.
Once the world is certified polio-free, the annual savings are estimated to be
US $1.5 billion. It is estimated that France alone will save at least US$ 50 million each year once it can stop immunization against polio—resources which can be redirected to other public health initiatives.
The international polio eradication effort, launched in 1988, is spearheaded by WHO, Rotary International, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Major partners in the Polio Eradication Initiative include technical agencies; 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, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States of America), and corporate partners (e.g. De Beers and Aventis Pasteur).
Further information:Journalists can contact Christine McNab, WHO, in Paris, Mobile: +41 79 217 3427, email@example.com; David Schwab, Octagon Athlete Representation, + 1 703 905 3363; in Paris, +33 1 53 64 75 00, firstname.lastname@example.org; Jorge Salkeld, Octagon Athlete Representation in Paris, +33 1 53 64 75 01; or Becky Owens, WHO in Geneva, Tel.: +41 22 791 791 3832, Mobile: +41 79 217 3472, email@example.com.
Global Polio Eradication Initiative: For more information and a link to WHO’s Martina Hingis website, see http://www.polioeradication.org