Asian, North African countries close to ending polio with help of UN
With several Asian and North African countries expected to be polio-free within months, regional health ministers today joined a United Nations-led eradication initiative to announce a two-pronged strategy to "mop up" new cases and to help put countries in West and Central Africa back on track to stamp out the virus.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), recent figures show Asia and North Africa together reporting only 21 cases of polio in 2004, compared to 94 this time last year. And with the all-time low levels of polio in Egypt, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan, four of the six remaining endemic countries are on track to meet the target for stopping the spread of the virus by the end of the year.
Heath Ministers from those countries announced an accelerated strategy to "mop-up" each new virus. Under this ambitious initiative, each new poliovirus found will trigger two massive, tailored immunization campaigns in response, targeting between one and five million children, before the virus has the opportunity to spread.
The picture is a bit more challenging for countries in West and Central Africa, due in part to an ongoing outbreak originating in northern Nigeria, where immunization campaigns have been suspended since August.
A joint statement from the spearheading partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative warned that countries in the region, particularly Nigeria and Niger, will need different strategies to bring the regional eradication programme into line with the progress in Asia this year.
WHO, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), Rotary International and the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said that the spread of virus from Kano, Nigeria, across the region and into Central Africa already cost $25 million for emergency campaigns in 2003. Ramping up agency responses in the area will cost even more.
The new strategy for the African region includes the reintroduction of a mass, synchronized immunization campaign across 21 countries by early 2005, if not sooner. This strategy will be supplemented, where appropriate, with mop-up campaigns around any importations.
The statement adds that an understanding was reached and signed between the Kano state government and federal authorities earlier this month on the required conditions for restarting the polio immunization activities there. As these conditions are now being met, preparations are being made to support full catch-up immunization campaigns in Kano, ahead of the nation-wide activities in September, October and November.