Plans to eradicate polio by 2005 could come to fruition if governments in 4 countries gave full backing to extensive immunization campaigns. Officials of the UN World Health Organization (WHO) said that the disease might not be conquered unless a window of opportunity from new funds was used immediately.
?Polio eradication is a top priority,? said WHO Director-General Lee Jongwook, MD, MPH. ?We have eliminated it from almost every country in the world?clearly eradicating it by 2005 is a doable job.? Polio has claimed 235 victims so far this year, according to Dr. Lee.
Experts said that polio in its wildest form is concentrated in India, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Egypt, accounting for 99% of all new cases. It also exists in Afghanistan, Niger, and Somalia.
?The aim is to build a wall of immunity, to stop both local transmission and export to other countries,? said David L. Heymann, MD, a top WHO expert on communicable diseases. ?If we don?t do it now, the chance may be lost. The funds we now have are not infinite, and if we do not defeat polio within the next 2 years there is a risk that other health priorities will take over.?
A successful campaign depends on the effort in India, where there was a major outbreak last year, as well as in Nigeria, Pakistan, and Egypt. ?Strong routine immunization campaigns are vital? . Unless we stop transmission in the remaining polio-endemic countries, it will spread to other countries where it has been eliminated and reverse the gains we have made,? Dr. Heymann said.