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Saying Goodbye to Polio: Not There Yet, but Close


Karen Leggett and Cynthia Kirk

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VOICE ONE:

This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. I'm Bob Doughty.

VOICE TWO:

And I'm Pat Bodnar. This week -- a progress report on the campaign to end polio.

VOICE ONE:

And a simpler way to save the life of a heart attack victim.

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Two thousand five was the year that polio was supposed to be gone from the world. World health officials say the goal has almost been reached. But in some countries the fight must go on.

VOICE ONE:

The worldwide campaign to end polio began in nineteen eighty-eight. At that time, the disease existed in more than one hundred twenty-five countries. Each year it affected more than three hundred fifty-thousand children.

Since then, two thousand million children in two hundred countries have been immunized to protect against polio.

Polio is caused by a virus that affects mostly children under five years old. Victims commonly get sick from water that contains human waste infected with the virus.

The disease attacks nerve cells. Some people lose the ability to walk. Some lose the ability to breathe without assistance. About one victim in two hundred suffers permanent paralysis. And some victims die.

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More than one-third of all current cases are in Nigeria. The situation there is often described as the biggest threat to the effort to end polio.

In two thousand three, some states in northern Nigeria suspended polio immunization programs. Muslim clergymen disputed the safety of the vaccine.

Vaccinations restarted after a year. Now health experts say Nigeria is working hard again to immunize every child. They say Nigeria should be able to stop the spread of polio in one more year.

While the campaigns were suspended, polio spread to ten countries in west and central Africa that had been free of the disease. But public health experts had good news in November. They said the ten countries had not reported any new cases of polio since June of this year.

The countries include Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic and Chad. The others are Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea, Mali and Togo.

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Health officials report that Sudan has also stopped the spread of polio. Sudan held seven national immunization days in two thousand five. Medical experts say it is important to vaccinate every child in a country. The World Health Organization will declare Sudan free of polio if it has no new cases for three years.

Polio from Nigeria also spread to Yemen and Indonesia. Health officials say it is now being controlled in Yemen, but continues to spread in areas of Indonesia.

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VOICE TWO:

You are listening to SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English from Washington.

Campaigns to stop the spread of polio include giving children vaccine four times by mouth in the first year of life.

Health workers hope to make more progress with a new kind of vaccine. It is called a monovalent oral polio vaccine.

Until now, vaccines have combined three medicines to fight three different polio viruses. But only one exists in most countries. So health officials have started to use the single strongest medicine that will prevent that type of polio.

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The new kind of vaccine is being used in both India and Pakistan. Health officials in those countries report great progress in their efforts to stop the spread of polio. The number of cases in each country this year is about half the number last year.

In Pakistan, health workers involved in the effort to end polio also became some of the first to help victims of the October earthquake. These workers provided emergency services. They also immunized children against other diseases besides polio.

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Less than ten years ago, India had seventy-five thousand cases of polio in one year. Last year, health officials reported just one hundred thirty-six cases.

More than a million teams have been going door-to-door all over India to vaccinate children. Immunization days are being held every six weeks in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. These states have the most polio cases in the country. They also have the highest birth rates.

Health workers mark houses with the letter P if all the children who live there have been vaccinated against polio. If any children are not home, or if the parents are worried about the vaccine, the house is marked with an X. Teams keep returning until the house can be marked with a P.

Doctors say even children who are not feeling well should receive the vaccine. But they need to take it again when they are well in case the medicine washes out of their body.

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The fight to end polio has cost four thousand million dollars so far. Now, it also includes immunizing children against five other diseases. These are diphtheria, measles, pertussis, tetanus and tuberculosis.

Money has come from the World Health Organization and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Money also has come from the United Nations Children’s Fund and many individual nations. And it has come from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Rotary International has also provided a lot of support.

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The Rotary Club started in Chicago, Illinois, in nineteen-oh-five. Members are often business people who want to meet each other and help their own communities and others. Today Rotary International has more than one million members in one hundred sixty-six countries.

In nineteen eighty-five, the group decided to help immunize all of the world’s children against polio.

Ezra Teshome is a Rotary member who lives in Seattle, in the northwestern state of Washington. For the past nine years, Mister Teshome has taken a team to his native Ethiopia to help immunize millions of children. In November, Time magazine honored Ezra Teshome as one of ten global health heroes.

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Other Rotary members have taken vaccine to children living on boats in Cambodia. In Angola, volunteers found planes and other vehicles to take vaccine to areas with landmines still hidden in the ground after years of war.

And, in India, one hundred thousand Rotarians and family members helped immunize one hundred sixty-five million children in one day. Rotary members now look forward to a day when they can celebrate the end of polio.

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When the heart is in cardiac arrest, it stops pumping blood. Breathing stops. Without lifesaving measures, the brain starts to die within four to six minutes.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation can save the life of a heart attack victim. CPR combines rescue breaths and repeated pressure on the chest. It keeps blood and oxygen flowing to the heart and brain.

The American Heart Association has new guidelines for the public about how to do CPR. It says the steps are simpler than before and easy to follow. They appeared in its journal Circulation.

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The biggest change is in the number of chest compressions. The earlier guidelines called for fifteen chest compressions for every two breaths. Now it is thirty compressions for every two breaths -- for adults as well as children. The steps are repeated over and over until medical help arrives.

To do compressions, a person places one hand on top of the other and presses down into the chest. The idea is to push hard and push fast, at a rate of one hundred compressions per minute. With a newborn baby, two fingers should be used.

Studies found that continuous compressions increase blood flow. This would give the victim more time until a defibrillator can be found or the heart can begin to pump again.

A defibrillator is a device that sends an electric shock to the heart in an effort to return a normal heartbeat. Heart experts say CPR is important not only before defibrillation but also immediately after.

Sudden cardiac arrest is a leading cause of death in the United States and Canada. Victims who are not in a hospital usually die because most of the public does not know what to do. The American Heart Association says immediate CPR can sharply increase the chances of survival.

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SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written by Karen Leggett and Cynthia Kirk who was also our producer. I'm Pat Bodnar.

VOICE ONE:

And I'm Bob Doughty. Internet users can read and listen to our programs at voaspecialenglish.com. Listen next week for more news about science, in Special English on the Voice of America.

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