Health ministers from the world's six remaining polio-endemic countries have agreed to a plan to eradicate the wild polio virus by the end of the year. The ministers and representatives from countries that have been re-infected with polio held an emergency meeting in Geneva to give renewed impetus to the global polio eradication campaign.
The World Health Organization says the health ministers have pledged to wage an aggressive campaign against the polio virus and to eradicate it completely by the end of this year. The Coordinator of the Polio Eradication Initiative, Bruce Aylward, says the ministers are aware that they have a historic opportunity to wipe out a disease that once paralyzed hundreds of thousands of children each year.
"The governments today committed to immunizing 250 million children across these six countries, multiple times, in house to house activities to ensure that transmission is stopped as rapidly as possible," he said. "There was a recognition that not only was this the best chance, but quite possibly because of that growing vulnerability, because of the financing challenges, because of the need for sustained political will, it may be the last chance to finish this job."
During the past 15 years, the international community has invested $3 billion to eradicate polio. The campaign has succeeded in wiping out the virus in 119 countries. Only six countries, Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Niger, Nigeria and Pakistan, remain affected. Nigeria is the greatest risk to global eradication.
Several months ago, officials in the northern Islamic state of Kano refused to allow children to be immunized. Some religious and political leaders claim the vaccine is contaminated with substances that cause HIV-AIDS and infertility. The World Health Organization denies this and says the vaccine is safe.
Nigeria's Minister of Health, Eyitayo Lambo says his government is totally committed to the eradication of polio and he believes the problems in Kano soon will be resolved.
"We are very hopeful that by the end of next week, all these questions that they have raised, all the concerns that they have raised will be addressed," he said. "They have promised that once the concerns are addressed, they will be ready to forge ahead."
Nigeria accounts for nearly half of the 667 remaining cases of polio in the world. Since immunization stalled in Kano, the polio virus has spread to seven West African countries. The WHO says this has put 15 million children at risk, making it necessary to mount massive immunization campaigns across west and central Africa.