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Polio — A Former Weapon of Mass Destruction?

Is the World Health Organization’s polio eradication efforts entering the final stretch?

August 11, 2004

Is the World Health Organization's polio eradication efforts entering the final stretch?

In 1988, the World Health Organization began a comprehensive $3 billion campaign to ensure that no child will ever again contract polio. Since its inception, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative has had tremendous success worldwide — and, despite some setbacks, is very close to achieving its ultimate goal. Our Globalist Factsheet examines the state of the global fight against polio.

What is the current number of cases of polio worldwide?

As of August 2004, there are 486 known cases of paralytic polio worldwide.

(World Health Organization)

How effective has the Global Polio Eradication Initiative been in reducing this number?

The current 486 cases represent less than 1% of the total number of reported polio cases in 1988.

(New York Times)

In which countries is polio still prevalent?

Polio remains endemic (that is, freely circulating) in only six countries — Nigeria, Niger, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Egypt.

(Washington Post)

And which countries among these account for the most cases?

Nigeria alone accounts for 383 of the current polio cases — concentrated mainly in the northern state of Kano. India has the next highest count with 25 — followed by Niger (20), Pakistan (19), Afghanistan (3) and Egypt (1).

(World Health Organization)

What sets Nigeria and Niger apart from the rest of this group?

Nigeria and Niger are the only two West African nations that have never fully eradicated polio in their own populations.
(New York Times)

What are possible reasons that Nigeria remains so susceptible to polio?

Until August 2004, Muslim clerics and other leaders in the predominantly Muslim state of Kano feared the polio vaccine was a U.S. plot to sterilize their children — and spread AIDS to reduce the Muslim population of the world.

(International Herald Tribune)

What caused a recent shift in opinion toward the polio vaccination?

One factor that managed to sway the opinion of the governor of Kano, Ibrahim Shekarau, was the origin of the imported vaccine: it came from Indonesia — another Muslim nation.

(International Herald Tribune)

Are there other factors that make transmission high in this region?

During the rainy season — when the virus spreads much more easily through surface water — as much as 95% of children under five years old in the northern areas of Nigeria may need to be vaccinated in order to stop transmission of polio. The normal rate is only 80%.

(The Boston Globe)

Have any other disease eradication initiatives been this successful?

After an 11-year campaign, smallpox became the first human disease to be completely wiped out in 1977. Polio would become the second.

(World Health Organization)

Which organizations are working to thwart the spread of polio?

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is headed by the World Health Organization with help from UNICEF, Rotary International and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

(The Boston Globe)

Will the Global Polio Eradication Initiative reach its goal of complete elimination of polio by 2004?

With the recent resumption of vaccinations in Kano, the World Health organization is very confident that it can reach its goal by the end of 2004.

(International Herald Tribune)