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UN hails fight against polio as numbers drop

UN hails fight against polio as number of countries with disease falls to four

The number of countries with indigenous polio has dropped to an all-time low of four, two United Nations agencies involved in the global fight against the disease said today, as new vaccines were announced to target the remaining strains of the virus.

According to a press statement, this is the first time in three years that the number of polio-endemic countries has fallen, leaving Nigeria, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan as the sole remaining countries yet to have stopped indigenous polio transmission.

“Polio has been endemic in our country for all of recorded history,” said Egyptian Minister of Health Dr. Hatem Mostafa El-Gabaly. “The best tools of our age finally defeated this enemy who has been with us from pharaonic times.”

Today’s statement was released by a core group of international partners who are leading the fight against the disease, and which includes the UN World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Rotary International and the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention.

It added that along with Egypt, Niger was the other country that had defeated indigenous polio over the past 12 months or so thanks to multiple immunization campaigns.

“The success in Niger and Egypt is the result of intense efforts in 2004-05 to halt Africa’s polio epidemic and fast-track the introduction of monovalent polio vaccines into selected areas,” the statement said, referring to vaccines that target individual virus strains.

Despite the fact that polio is still endemic in India and Pakistan, the statement added that the number of cases in both countries in the last quarter of 2005 had fallen by more than half compared with the previous year, due to more effective immunization strategies and the use of the monovalent vaccines.

The next generation of monovalent vaccines would be the main means of trying to eradicate the two surviving strains of the polio virus – types 1 and 3 – this year. The partners called on governments to remain vigilant and continue their eradication efforts.

“To fully exploit these new tools, government commitment in Nigeria must remain high at all levels to ensure that all children are vaccinated,” said Jonathan Majiyagbe of Kano, Nigeria and past President of Rotary International. Ninety per cent of polio cases in Nigeria are concentrated in just eight of the country's 37 states.

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