The World Health Organization, WHO, says it has succeeded in stopping a polio epidemic across 10 West and Central African countries, including Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Ghana and Togo. These countries had been polio-free and were reinfected with a wild virus from Nigeria.
Bruce Aylward is Coordinator of the World Health Organization's Polio Eradication Initiative. He says the many committed people who have been working for years to eradicate polio now are seeing some light at what was a pretty dark tunnel for the past 12 months.
"What is very, very exciting now is that at the epicenter of this epidemic, the countries immediately surrounding Nigeria, those 10 countries that were hit in the first wave, have all gone at least four or five months now without polio. In addition, in Nigeria itself, the virus has retreated to the northern part of the country. And, this is very, very positive news indeed," he noted.
Three northern Islamic States in Nigeria stopped immunizing their children against polio two years ago. They claimed that the polio vaccine was contaminated and caused HIV/AIDS and infertility. The wild virus traveled from Nigeria, reinfecting 10 neighboring states that had been polio-free. Since mid-2003, the epidemic has paralyzed nearly 200 children in these countries.
To minimize the risk of polio spreading across the region, Dr. Aylward says WHO is launching a series of synchronized immunization campaigns in 28 West and Central African countries. They include the 10 countries where polio is no longer present. He says more than 100 million children will be immunized in November and December. He notes polio eradication efforts are intensifying in Nigeria.
Dr. Aylward says the gloom that pervaded the polio eradication campaign six months ago is gone. He says efforts to rid the world of this crippling disease now are back on track.
"It looks now that by the end of this year or certainly by the middle of 2006, every country that remains infected will stop polio, with the exception of Nigeria. It is going to take an extra 12 months to catch up there. But, all of these other places that got reinfected will stop by early 2006 or at latest the middle of next year," said Dr. Aylward.
Since 1988, the number of polio cases has been cut from 350,000 a year to 1000, 486 cases this year.
The World Health Organization says it urgently needs $200 million to carry out its immunization activities next year.