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Thursday, January 6, 2000


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UN Agencies Call for Final Push to Wipe Out Polio
02:13 a.m. Jan 06, 2000 Eastern

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The World Health Organization and the U.N. Children's Fund called on 30 African and Asian heads of state to make a final push to wipe out polio, the crippling virus that afflicts young children.

``We are on the verge of an historic public health victory the eradication of poliomyelitis, a disease which has caused untold suffering to millions of children in all parts of the world,'' WHO director-general Gro Harlem Brundtland and UNICEF executive director Carol Bellamy wrote in their letter.

The two sent appeals to 30 countries in Africa and southern Asia, saying that success in the campaign to eliminate the disease hinges on efforts by these nations to wipe out the last traces of the disease.

Despite enormous strides in eradicating polio, wars and persistent poverty are impeding a final success. Bellamy and Dr. Brundtland, a physician and former Norwegian prime minister, appealed particularly to nations in conflict zones to initiate a truce so vaccinations could take place.

Polio has been wiped out in North, Central and South America, Europe and the Western Pacific region as well as much of the Middle East and most of northern and southern Africa.

WHO, UNICEF and Rotary International, which has mobilized volunteers around the world for national immunization days, began a campaign in 1988 to eradicate polio by the end of the year 2000. The volunteers administer two drops of liquid of an oral polio vaccine, along with a capsule of vitamin A, which builds up a child's resistance and can prevent blindness.

The number of cases has fallen from some 350,000 in 1988 to some 5,200 reported cases in 1999. But many cases are not reported from the disease, which is highly infectious, affects the spinal cord and brain and causes paralysis and even death in children under five years of age.

Brundtland at a conference in New Delhi, said the year 2000 was a ``window of opportunity to defeat the disease forever.'' India has 70 percent of the world' remaining polio cases.

The 30 countries that received letters from WHO and UNICEF were: Angola, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Cameroon, Congo Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Liberia, Mali, Myanmar, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Togo.

Copyright 2000 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication and redistribution of Reuters content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.Reuters News Service
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