Immunization

Window closing on chance to push polio ‘The Final Inch’ towards eradication

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© Michael Loccisano/WireImage
Executive Director Ann M. Veneman and Google.org ‘Chief Philanthropy Evangelist’ Dr. Larry Brilliant at a special screening of ‘The Final Inch’, a film made with UNICEF’s assistance that documents efforts to stamp out polio in India.

By Chris Niles

NEW YORK, 3 April 2009 – More than 50 years after the discovery of  the first safe and effective polio vaccine, the window is closing on the chance to eradicate the disease for good.

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Enormous strides have been made in consigning polio to history, but the effects of climate change could bring it roaring back. That alarming prospect was one of several topics covered last night in the panel discussion at a special New York screening of ‘The Final Inch’, an Academy Award-nominated film about polio in India.

Reduction in polio cases
“Over the last 20 years, there has been a 99 per cent reduction in polio cases due to the commitment of Rotary and other partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman. “Eradication of polio worldwide is within reach with the continued investment in vaccinating children.”

Made by Vermillion Films and Google.org, and directed by Irene Taylor-Brodsky, ‘The Final Inch” documents efforts to stamp out polio in the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar – which are among the few remaining areas where the paralyzing and often fatal childhood disease remains endemic.

The documentary was made with assistance from UNICEF India.

Averting a wider threat
“We have a very narrow window of opportunity to eradicate polio from India because of climate change,” said Dr. Larry Brilliant, ‘Chief Philanthropy Evangelist’ at Google.org. “If we miss it now and sea levels rise and waterborne diseases increase, we will never have another chance to rid Asia of this terrible disease.”

Veneman noted that massive efforts to eradicate polio in the last 20 years have resulted in the number of endemic countries dropping from 25 to just 4 today: Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Nigeria.

However, if polio is not beaten in those four countries, it could become a wider threat, she said.

‘Behind the curtain of poverty’
Dr. Brilliant said eradicating the last vestiges of polio were also a moral imperative.

UNICEF Image
© Michael Loccisano/WireImage
At the screening, from left: former Rotary International executive James Lacey, UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman, Google.org ‘Chief Philanthropy Evangelist’ Dr. Larry Brilliant and film director Irene Taylor Brodsky.

“The most contaminated environments are the poorest environments in the world,” he said. “Therefore, it is not surprising that ‘the final inch’ will be that inch of humanity that we don’t see, that happens behind the curtain of poverty, where people die quietly with no one to hear them. It is a test of our civilization – how we care for the most vulnerable amongst us, how we care for the people who we don’t see.”

‘The Final Inch’ debuted on 1 April on the US cable television network HBO, which will re-broadcast the documentary on World Health Day, 7 April. The film will also be streamed lived on HBO.com and YouTube.com.


 

 

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2 April 2009: UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on a special screening of ‘The Final Inch’, which highlights the battle to eradicate the last remaining pockets of polio.
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