Health ministers from the world's six-remaining polio-endemic countries have pledged to eradicate the wild polio virus by the end of the year. The ministers and representatives from countries which have been re-infected with polio held an emergency meeting in Geneva Thursday 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 an 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."
Over 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 currently is the greatest risk to global eradication.
Several months ago, the northern Islamic State of Kano refused to allow its children to be immunized. Some religious and political leaders claim the vaccine is contaminated with substances that cause HIV-AIDS and infertility.
The Head of WHO's Polio Eradication Campaign, David Heymann, says the vaccine is safe.
"UNICEF purchases all the vaccines used in the polio eradication program in what are called pre-qualified industries, companies," said Mr. Heymann. "Those are companies which meet the standards for purity and also quality control as they develop and manufacture their vaccines. The vaccines used in Nigeria are those vaccines which are used everywhere in the world in the polio eradication program."
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," said Mr. Lambo. "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, WHO says this has put 15 million children at risk, making it necessary to mount massive immunization campaigns across west and central Africa.
The Health Minister of Chad, Aziza Baroud, says her country worked hard to eliminate polio and had been free of the disease since 2001.
Ms. Baroud says unfortunately, last October, a first case of wild polio was identified in her country. Now there are nine cases. She says six of them were imported from Nigeria. She urges countries to remain vigilant and work together to wipe out this disease.