- The Washington Times - Friday, September 29, 2006

Polio has been all but eradicated in most of the world, but persists in Nigeria, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, according to Rotary International officials working to wipe out the disease.

“Until we clear those four [countries], we still have problems on virus going over the borders into a neighboring country,” said Bill Boyd, president of Rotary International, a nonprofit service organization that has worked more than 20 years on polio eradication.

Rotary International is a leading partner in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative that includes the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since 1980, Rotary has spent more than $600 million to vaccinate over 2 billion children in 122 countries.

The effort received a boost last year when the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation made a $25 million grant for a polio immunization drive in the four countries.

Last year, the world moved several critical milestones closer to polio, or poliomyelitis,eradication, including an end to West and Central Africa’s epidemic. There were still 1,252 cases reported this year, including 809 cases in Nigeria, 297 in India, 28 in Afghanistan and 19 in Pakistan.

Mr. Boyd said the cases could have been prevented, but in August 2003, the Nigerian Muslim leaders of Kano said the United States had laced the vaccine with drugs to cause infertility. Villages went unvaccinated and cases doubled. Nigerian strains then spread to 16 other nations that had once been polio-free.

“It’s not a difficult process to give those two special drops [of oral vaccines],” Mr. Boyd said at the National Press Club Wednesday. “What is difficult is that you make sure you get to every available child.”

In addition to the endemic countries, nine countries have reported cases in 2006, including Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Niger, Nepal, Democratic Republic of Congo and Namibia.

Egypt and Niger were declared polio-free in February.

Though there are political and security issues, Mr. Boyd said, “you’ve got to immunize at least 90 percent of the under-5-year-olds.”

Eradicating polio can be completed rapidly, Mr. Boyd said, except in Nigeria where the immunization is under 60 percent. Nigeria will take an additional year before the nation can be certified polio-free.

Polio, also known as infantile paralysis, used to be one of the most feared diseases of children everywhere, until 1955, when Jonas Salk discovered the polio vaccine.

The virus invades the nervous system and can cause total paralysis in hours. It can strike at any age, but affects mainly children under 5. Polio is mainly passed through person-to-person contact. One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis, which happens mostly in the legs. Among those paralyzed, 5 percent to 10 percent die when their breathing muscles become immobilized.

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