With India the number one priority area for polio eradication, the United Nations lead health agency today launched a massive immunization campaign to vaccinate more than 80 million children in the epicentre of the epidemic.
"Eighty-three per cent of all new polio cases are now found in India. This country, and Uttar Pradesh in particular, are the number one priorities for stopping transmission of the polio virus around the world," Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland of the World Health Organization (WHO) said at the launch of the campaign in Uttar Pradesh state.
India is one of only seven countries still affected by polio, a reduction from over 125 countries before the 1988 launch of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative spearheaded by WHO, Rotary International, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF). To harness the epidemic in this hard-hit region, over 80 million children will be vaccinated in six Indian states over the next six days.
WHO is focusing on the state of Uttar Pradesh, which accounts for 64 per cent of all new polio cases worldwide and from where the disease is now spreading to other provinces in the country and beyond. Uttar Pradesh was severely impacted by a spread of polio across northern India last year. The epidemic occurred after the number of planned polio vaccination campaigns in India was reduced. Additionally, the vaccination activities that did take place left out as many as 15 per cent of homes.
The seven countries with indigenous wild polioviruses, from highest to lowest risk, are: India, Nigeria, Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Niger and Somalia. To contain polio in these remaining countries, the Director-General stressed that, "The support of the international community has never been more crucial than it is today. We need donors to fill the $275 million funding gap we face globally, so that all activities can go ahead as planned."