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Global polio eradication now hinges on four countries

Polio-free countries seek to protect themselves

Boy receiving polio vaccination, Nigeria

The world's success in eradicating polio now depends on four countries – Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan – according to the Advisory Committee on Polio Eradication (ACPE), the independent oversight body of the eradication effort.

With a targeted vaccine and faster ways of tracking the virus, most countries that recently suffered outbreaks are again polio-free. In parts of the four endemic countries, however, there is a persistent failure to vaccinate all children, and polio-free countries are considering new measures to help protect themselves from future outbreaks.

"With a more effective monovalent vaccine and accelerated lab processes for identifying poliovirus, these countries have the best tools we've ever had," noted Dr Stephen Cochi, Chair of the ACPE and Senior Adviser to the Director of the Global Immunization Division at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.. "Eradicating polio is no longer a technical issue alone. Success is now more a question of the political will to ensure effective administration at all levels so that all children get vaccine." As an illustration, the office of Afghan President Hamid Karzai has already taken direct oversight of polio vaccinations, following the sharp increase in cases in the Southern Region of Afghanistan,.

Given that all children paralysed by polio in the world this year were infected by virus originating in one of the four endemic countries, polio-free countries are now taking new measures to protect themselves. The Ministry of Health of Saudi Arabia, for example, will be enforcing stringent polio immunization requirements for the upcoming pilgrimage to Mecca.

"Polio eradication hinges on vaccine supply, community acceptance, funding and political will. The first three are in place. The last will make the difference," said Dr Robert Scott, Chair of Rotary International's PolioPlus Committee, speaking on behalf of the spearheading partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. Rotary is the top private-sector contributor and volunteer arm of the Initiative, having contributed US$600 million and countless volunteer hours in the field since 1985.

The ACPE advised the four polio-endemic countries to set realistic target dates for stopping transmission, noting that improvements in reaching all children in these areas have been only incremental, and that these countries will take more than 12 months to end polio.

Note to Editors

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is spearheaded by national governments, the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF.

The polio eradication coalition includes governments of countries affected by polio; private sector foundations (including United Nations Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation); development banks (including the World Bank, the African Development Bank); donor governments (including Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Portugal, Qatar, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States of America); the European Commission; humanitarian and nongovernmental organizations (including the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies) and corporate partners (including Sanofi Pasteur, De Beers, Wyeth). Volunteers in developing countries also play a key role; 20 million have participated in mass immunization campaigns.

Circulation of wild poliovirus: Since 1988, global polio eradication efforts reduced the number of polio cases from 350,000 annually to 1403 in 2006 (as at 10 October 2006), of which 1300 are in the four endemic countries (where poliovirus transmission has never been stopped): Nigeria, India, Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the lowest number of endemic countries in history.

Funding: In addition to strengthened political ownership in the remaining endemic countries, key to success is the ongoing commitment of the international donor community. For 2006, a further US$50 million is urgently needed, to ensure planned immunization activities through to the rest of the year can proceed. Additional funding of US$390 million is needed for 2007-2008, of which US$100 million is needed for activities in the first half of 2007.

For further information, please contact:

Sona Bari
Telephone: +41 79 475 5511

Oliver Rosenbauer
Telephone: +41 22 791 3832

Vivian Fiore
Rotary Int’l/Chicago
Telephone: +1 847 866 3234

Steve Stewart
Telephone: +1 404 639 8327

Jessica Malter
Telephone: +1 212 326 7412