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Polio Cases Rise in Indonesia

Indonesian child receives a polio vaccination in Jakarta
Polio has stricken dozens of children in Indonesia and is continuing to spread. The government is preparing for a national immunization drive in an effort to stop the potentially crippling disease.

The World Health Organization says the number of cases of polio in Indonesia has climbed to over 100 and is urging wider immunization to stop the disease from infecting more children.

The Indonesian government launched an emergency immunization campaign in May, vaccinating around 6.5 million children in West Java province, where the first case was found, and in the neighboring provinces of Banten and Jakarta.

A second immunization drive has just been completed in the same region, and the government is gearing up for a national immunization day because some cases have been found throughout the country.

The head of the WHO's polio immunization program in Indonesia, Dr. Bardan Jung Rana, says the government needs to launch the national immunization drive as soon as possible.

"We do expect the cases will rise for some time," said Dr. Rana. "We're hoping the NID, the National Immunization Day, comes soon, because the sooner it comes the quicker we are hoping that the cases will start declining."

Polio had not been seen in Indonesia from 1995 until the first new case appeared in April, and the rapid spread has dealt a major blow to a United Nations program aimed at the global eradication of polio by the end of this year.

Dr. Rana says polio will not be eliminated until all children are vaccinated against the disease.

"The idea is to make sure that every child is immunized until and unless we absolutely got rid of the polio virus from the world completely and that's what the aim has been - to have global eradication," he said.

Polio usually attacks the central nervous system, and can cause paralysis, muscular atrophy, and sometimes death.

Dr. Rana says the polio virus was probably brought to Indonesia from Yemen or Saudi Arabia by international travelers, who may have passed on a strain that originated in Nigeria.

The disease, which is waterborne, remains endemic in six countries - Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Egypt, Nigeria, and Niger.