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Science File

Experts Say Polio Can Be Eradicated

Egypt, India, Nigeria and Pakistan are implored to wholly back immunization.

August 02, 2003|From Reuters

Polio could be eradicated by 2005 if governments in four key countries give full backing to extensive immunization campaigns, according to officials from the World Health Organization.

The disease might never be conquered unless a window of opportunity offered by a new flow of funds is used now, the officials said Tuesday in Geneva.

"Polio eradication is a top priority," said new WHO Director-General Lee Jong-wook. "We have eliminated it from almost every country in the world.

"Clearly eradicating it by 2005 is a doable job," he said.

Polio, which once paralyzed and killed thousands of children a year in dozens of countries, has claimed 235 victims this year, Lee said.

The disease is concentrated in India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Egypt, which account for 99% of all new cases, according to the WHO. Polio is also known to exist in Afghanistan, Niger and Somalia.

David Heymann, a WHO expert on communicable diseases who has been named head of the anti-polio drive, said the agency would concentrate resources on all seven countries where polio still exists.

"The aim is to build a wall of immunity, to stop both local transmission and export to other countries," said Heymann, who headed the apparently successful WHO effort to stop the SARS virus this year.

He said the success of the campaign would depend on the effort in India, where there was a major outbreak last year, as well as in Nigeria, Pakistan and Egypt.

One case was reported this year in Lebanon, the result of a virus brought from India. In the last year, the virus has spread from Nigeria into neighboring countries that had been free of the disease.

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