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DEVELOPMENT REPORT – Polio Vaccine 50th Anniversary - 2004-05-02

Broadcast: May 3, 2004

This is Robert Cohen with the VOA Special English Development Report.

Fifty years ago, no one knew how to stop polio. Polio is a disease of the muscles and the nervous system. Victims lose the ability to move their arms or legs, and often the ability to breathe.

Then a scientist named Jonas Salk developed an experimental vaccine to prevent it. The organization March of Dimes launched a test.

The first vaccines were given on April twenty-sixth, nineteen-fifty-four. About four-thousand students were the first to receive the injections. They attended Franklin Sherman Elementary School in McLean, Virginia.

The test was called “the shot felt around the world.” About two-million children were vaccinated in one year. Those who received the series of three injections became known as the “Polio Pioneers.”

Today, a form of vaccine taken by mouth is used to fight polio. This vaccine was developed by Albert Sabin. Polio is almost gone from the world. The World Health Organization wants to declare an end to polio by next year. But this goal may be at risk.

Recently, in southern Africa, Botswana reported its first case of polio in more than ten years. Health officials say the virus found in a child probably came from Nigeria. One state in Nigeria is not ready to vaccinate its children.

Islamic leaders in Kano say the vaccine is not safe. Some opponents have said the vaccines are part of a Western plot to harm Muslims. Kano officials have said they are waiting for supplies of vaccine from Muslim countries in Asia.

There have been several new cases of polio in Kano since January. Health officials believe most other new cases of polio in Nigeria spread from Kano. And the disease has spread to other African countries where there had been no polio for years.

Polio is still a problem also in India, Pakistan, Niger, Afghanistan and Egypt. India's national immunization days have reduced new cases to only eight reported so far this year. There were one-thousand cases two years ago.

In Nigeria, Muslim leaders, government officials, doctors and others met recently to discuss the concerns in Kano. People at the meeting said they agreed that Islam supports vaccinations against disease. Kano leaders urged the government to do more to fight all diseases that kill children, not only polio.

This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Karen Leggett and Jill Moss. This is Robert Cohen.