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WHO Begins Massive Polio Immunization Campaign

The World Health Organization says it is embarking on a massive immunization program to eradicate polio by the end of 2005.

The World Health Organization said 235 children in seven countries have been paralyzed by polio this year. When WHO began its global polio eradication campaign in 1988, 350,000 children were paralyzed each year by this disease.

WHO said India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Egypt account for 99 percent of new cases. The rest are found in Afghanistan, Niger and Somalia.

As part of its eradication plan, WHO said it plans to immunize this year 175 million children under age five in the seven polio-affected countries.

WHO Communicable Diseases expert, David Heymann, is heading the anti-polio drive. He said the aim is to build a wall of immunity, to stop local transmission and to prevent the exportation of cases from these countries to polio-free areas.

"In the past four years, there have been actually 12 exportations of polio into areas which were polio-free, five of those alone having come from India. So, it is very important not only that we interrupt transmission in these countries to protect the children in those countries, but also to protect the other countries in the world, which are now polio-free," Dr. Heymann said.

Dr. Heymann led WHO's program to stop the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, virus from spreading around the world.

He said polio transmission must be stopped in the remaining polio-endemic countries or it will start spreading to other countries.

"We believe that we can accomplish this job. And, we know that if we do not accomplish it within the next two years, it may not be accomplished. Over $3 billion has been put into polio eradication within the past years. That money is not infinite," Mr. Heymann said.

WHO considers polio to be eradicated in any given area if it does not occur there for three years.