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Effort to End Polio by 2005 Continues

This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

Ending polio before the end of this year remains a goal of six countries where the disease is still present. New cases are mostly in Nigeria, India and Pakistan, but also in Afghanistan, Egypt and Niger.

Health ministers of these six nations held an emergency meeting this month with the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. They presented a new plan to vaccinate two-hundred-fifty million children.

The campaign to end polio began in nineteen-eighty-eight. At that time, about three-hundred-fifty-thousand cases were reported each year. New cases were down to fewer than six-hundred-eighty last year. Three-hundred of those people were in Nigeria.

There have been problems with vaccination campaigns in northern Nigeria. Last year, Muslim clergy in the state of Kano refused to let children get the vaccine. They said the medicine caused AIDS, cancer and a loss of reproductive ability in females. The W-H-O denied these claims. Nigerian doctors said their own tests showed that the vaccine is safe.

But, because of the situation in the north, polio was able to spread to Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Togo. These countries had been free of the virus.

Polio spreads quickly through contact with human waste. The virus enters the body through the mouth. Victims, mostly children, can lose the ability to move their arms or legs. Breathing may also be difficult. Some victims die. There is no cure for polio.

Bruce Aylward is an official of the W-H-O campaign to end polio. He says this is the best and possibly the last chance for the world to become polio-free. Money is a problem. Many countries that are free of polio have stopped vaccinating children.

The campaign to end polio has involved more than two-hundred countries. About two-thousand million children have been vaccinated. International investment in the program has totaled more than three-thousand-million dollars over the past fifteen years.

The W-H-O says an additional one-hundred-fifty-million dollars is urgently needed for the final effort. If the campaign succeeds, polio would become the second disease in history to be ended by a medical campaign. The first was smallpox.

This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Jill Moss.