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Global deadline set to eradicate polio by 2005

graphic

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- In the 12 years since an ambitious health initiative was launched to eliminate polio worldwide by the end of the year 2000, there are still some 30 countries to go.

"The disease is eradicable," said Ciro de Quadros, director of the division of vaccines and immunizations for the World Health Organization. "We have good vaccine to eradicate the disease (and) all countries are committed."

By the end of last year, the number of cases had fallen by more than 95 percent, world health authorities reported at a Global Polio Partners Summit that began Wednesday. Participating were U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan; U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala; actress Mia Farrow, a special representative of the United Nations Children's Fund; and delegates from the World Health Organization and Rotary International.

More than 150 leaders from government and the private sector took part in the global polio summit. A new deadline has been set to eradicate polio by 2005.

"Until we eradicate the disease worldwide, there remains a threat to anyone else in the world who isn't immunized against it," said Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. "So we continue to provide vaccination for young children."

Polio remains a deadly threat, mostly in parts of sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian subcontinent. It is considered particularly acute in Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia and Sudan.

"We have to provide vaccinations in places where people are being killed daily in armed conflict," said Koplan. "In some of the countries we're working in, there are the worst natural disasters going on -- cyclones, floods, typhoons -- and yet the eradication effort is continuing on a daily basis."

Other countries identified as remaining at risk are Benin, Central African Republic, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Korea, Egypt, Eritrea, Ghana, Guinea, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Niger, Mali, Nepal, Sierra Leone and Togo.

"Those are countries in which the health infrastructure is the weakest," said de Quadros. "They don't have a health center on every corner. They don't have a good logistics system so it needs investment to improve the logistics, to improve the distribution system."

Caused by a virus, poliomyelitis affects the nervous system and can cause total paralysis in hours. Symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, stiff neck and pain in the extremities. Irreversible paralysis usually takes place in 1 in 200 cases. As many as 10 percent of those infected die when breathing muscles are paralyzed. The disease is most prevalent in children under the age of 3.

Eradication would save $1.5 billion annually

The last case of polio recorded in the Americas was in 1991, in Peru.

Challenges remain in the climate of aggression in many countries where polio is still a problem, as well as a lack of resources.

Although substantial investment has already been made, health officials here said at least another $450 million is necessary to finish the job.

"This is really very little money," said de Quadros, noting that about $1.5 billion should be saved in yearly treatment costs once the disease is vanquished. "I must underline that those obstacles have always been overcome when resources are available and when the countries are committed."

The goal to eradicate polio depends upon:

*Accessing children in all countries, especially in areas of heavy conflict
*Generating necessary funds
*Ensuring the political commitment necessary to accomplish the goal

CNN Medical Correspondent Rhonda Rowland contributed to this report.



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RELATED SITES:
Global Polio Partners Summit
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- Polio (opens a PDF file)
Poliomyelitis History in Canada
Encyclopedia Britannica - Poliomyelitis
American Academy of Pediatrics - Polio policy
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