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West Africa launches final assault on polio - 60 million African children to be vaccinated

Aventis Pasteur donates 30 million doses of oral polio vaccine

Girl receiving polio vaccination

With West African countries in the midst of vaccinating millions of children against polio, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, Aventis Pasteur, has donated 30 million doses of oral polio vaccine to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

This week, 16 West African countries are uniting to vaccinate all children under five within their borders.* Immunization campaigns over the past two years have driven the number of polio-endemic countries in Africa to an all-time low. In 1999, 20 African countries were polio-endemic, but to date this year, only three are considered endemic.**

This success is due to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, a broad partnership forged to deliver polio vaccine to every child under five. The Aventis Pasteur donation is already making a difference, with almost 3 million of the 30 million doses bound for the polio immunization campaign in Liberia.

“We are further strengthening the solidarity which has brought us to the cusp of a polio-free world, and will indeed push us to full success,“ said Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of the World Health Organization, at a recent signing ceremony at the United Nations in New York.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is spearheaded by the World Health Organization, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and UNICEF. Aventis Pasteur – the longest standing corporate partner in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative - has donated 120 million vaccine doses since 1997 and targeted its donations to African countries affected by conflict, including Sierra Leone and the Sudan, which now appear to be polio-free.

“We are so close to beating this crippling disease in Africa and worldwide,” said Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF, “but we are not there yet. We have to stay focused and committed and encourage support from all corners - from endemic countries, donor countries and the health industry - so all children can be immunized. This donation will help these countries finish the job and ensure no more African children are paralysed by this easily preventable disease.”

David J. Williams, President and Chief Executive Officer of Aventis Pasteur, the largest company in the world devoted entirely to vaccines, signed a banner pledging its commitment to end polio. “The Initiative has already made tremendous progress and we admire the remarkable work done by WHO, Rotary International, CDC, UNICEF and millions of volunteers around the world,” Williams said. “This donation is just one example of Aventis Pasteur’s commitment. We are very proud of our involvement with the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.”

About the Global Polio Eradication Initiative

Since its launch in 1988, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative has reduced poliovirus transmission from 125 countries and an estimated 350 000 cases, to just ten countries at the beginning of 2002. Of these just three - India, Nigeria and Pakistan - have had continued high-intensity transmission, while the remaining seven - Afghanistan, Angola, Egypt, Ethiopia, Niger, Somalia and Sudan - each have fewer than eight cases to date in 2002.

The final challenge to stopping transmission of wild poliovirus in Africa is to ensure all children are reached with polio vaccine - particularly those in the conflict areas around the city of Mogadishu in Somalia; those in eastern Angola, and all children under five in Nigeria. With the support of governments and millions of volunteers, the Initiative still requires US$ 275 million to fund polio eradication activities through 2005 and much of this is required for African countries.

To help meet the current funding challenge, Rotary members worldwide have embarked on a major campaign to raise US$ 80 million by the year 2003. To date, Rotary has contributed US$ 182 million to eradicate polio throughout the African continent and committed US$ 510 million worldwide. In addition to raising funds, Rotary members donate their time and personal resources during National Immunization Days. Throughout this year, Rotary members from countries around the world have joined Rotary members in polio endemic countries to help immunize children against polio.

Other partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative coalition include: the governments of countries affected by poliomyelitis; private foundations (e.g. United Nations Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation); development banks (e.g. World Bank); donor governments (e.g. Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, United Kingdom and United States of America); the European Commission; humanitarian organizations (e.g. the International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement) and corporate partners (e.g. Aventis Pasteur, De Beers and Wyeth). Volunteers in developing countries also play a key role: ten million have participated in mass immunization campaigns.

* The participating West African countries are Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.

** The three African countries with laboratory-confirmed transmission are Nigeria (95% of all cases on African continent to date in 2002); Niger and Somalia. In addition, two polio cases among Angolan refugees in western Zambia (February 2002) and positive environmental samples from Egypt demonstrate ongoing transmission in Angola and Egypt. See www.polioeradication.org for details on incidence of polio in each country.

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For more information contact:

Ms Christine McNab
Telephone: +41 22 791 4688
Mobile phone: +41 79 254 6815
E-mail: mcnabc@who.int

Ms Elizabeth Kramer
Telephone: +1 212 326 7566
E-mail: ekramer@unicef.org

Koren Wolman-Tardy