Polio :: International Leaders Meet in Geneva on Ridding World of Polio

Representatives of governments, donor organizations and international agencies meeting at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva February 28 agreed to improve and sustain protections against polio in certain high-risk areas.

The group pledged that, within 12 months, it would raise and sustain vaccination coverage and child immunity in areas of the world with endemic polio to levels that have stopped the disease in polio-free parts of the countries.

Indigenous polio virus survives only in parts of four countries ? Nigeria, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan ? where disease transmission never has been stopped. Another 10 countries are fighting the tail-end of outbreaks caused by importations of polio virus.

Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus that mainly affects small children through oral infection, and the disease can be imported into countries that are polio-free by people infected in polio-endemic countries.

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan convened the high-level consultation, which had top representation from the other spearheading partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative ? Rotary International, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and UNICEF.

The effort, which began in 1988 and is the world?s largest public health initiative, seeks to reach every child multiple times with oral polio vaccine. It has reduced the number of polio cases worldwide by more than 99 percent, according to WHO.

The success of the eradication campaign depends on whether the WHO can find and immunize every child against polio.

?Since 1988, the U.S. has spent $1.2 billion toward polio eradication and will continue to support the effort until the job is done,? Paula Dobriansky, under secretary of state for democracy and global affairs, said during a press conference after the meeting. ?The eradication of polio worldwide is a key foreign policy objective of the U.S. and also one of the highest international public health priorities.?

Dobriansky headed the U.S. delegation, which also included Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Kent Hill, assistant administrator for global health at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Also in attendance were special advisers to the heads of state of most of the endemic countries, representatives from the endemic countries’ ministries of finance and health, major donors, political organizations and independent technical experts.

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