"As Sebastião Salgado’s luminous photographs attest, there are few more heartbreaking illustrations of the world’s negligence towards children than polio." - Kofi A. Annan, United Nations Secretary General
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NEW YORK/GENEVA, 30 September 2003 – Two years ago, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and world-renowned Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado joined the largest public health initiative in history - the global effort, begun in 1988, to rid the world of poliomyelitis.
Now, with the wild polio virus cornered in only seven countries, Salgado launches his latest book - The End of Polio: A Global Effort to End a Disease – an epic visual account of the final stages in the eradication of this disease. Salgado’s photographs dramatically capture both the toll still taken by polio (a disease almost forgotten in richer countries) and the relentless campaign against it. This campaign extends through war zones and into the remotest parts of some of the poorest countries.
“The scale of it caught my attention,” says Salgado. “Though I had frequently visited most of the countries where polio is still a problem, I had not noticed what a terrible impact this disease still has. I was also not aware of the gigantic effort being made to eradicate it: millions of people delivering drops of polio vaccine to tens of millions of children. It is an amazing story that I wanted to help tell.”
Salgado’s work on polio began in 2001, invited by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the vaccine manufacturer Aventis Pasteur. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Pakistan, Somalia and Sudan, he witnessed children paralyzed by the disease, as well as the armies of health workers and volunteers who mobilize whole social sectors, from governments to theatrical troupes, to immunize every single child under five years of age. In France and the United States, he documented polio vaccine production and the specialized surveillance work that pinpoints the geographic origin of a particular virus strand and tracks the campaign’s progress.
This massive effort is the work of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, a partnership led by WHO, Rotary International, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF, and joined by endemic- and donor-country governments and a range of non-government organizations, foundations and individuals. Since 1988, the Initiative has reduced the number of polio cases worldwide by more than 99 per cent. By the end of 2005, the target year for a polio-free world, some five million children will have been spared this disease.
“Salgado’s imagery has brought a human face to a truly Herculean task,” says Carol Bellamy, UNICEF’s Executive Director. “The End of Polio is a fitting testament to courage and commitment in a great endeavour. When the world finally becomes polio-free, and children are safe from this maiming disease, his photographs will be a permanent reminder of what we have all accomplished for children against such great odds.”
Still, the campaign is not over. As The End of Polio enters bookstores, vaccinators continue to go house-to-house in Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Nigeria, Niger, Pakistan and Somalia – the last polio-endemic countries in the world – attempting to reach every single child under five years old.
In the book’s main text essay, Indian public health author and UNICEF editor, Siddharth Dube, warns, “The final stages of any great endeavour are often when the risks are greatest and the stakes highest. As long as polio persists, even in just a few countries, the world’s 190-odd polio-free countries must guard against an importation of wild poliovirus that could set off a recurrence of infection within their own borders.”
Indeed, four polio-free countries have experienced poliovirus importations so far this year. And, facing a continuing funding shortfall of $210 million - needed for vital vaccines, training and logistics - the eradication initiative is again at a turning point.
“We are so close but we are not home free,” says Carol Bellamy, “Let’s make no mistake about it. We need to close the funding gap, and we need to do it today, while polio is still in retreat.”
Sebastião Salgado adds: "I have witnessed terrible atrocities: genocide in Rwanda, ethnic cleansing in southern Europe, famine in northern Africa - injustices that are overwhelmingly caused by humankind. The immense efforts to eradicate polio have renewed my hope, my faith in solutions. The world cannot afford to miss this chance to finish with a disease.”
Notes to Editors:
UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, foundations, businesses, and governments. Contributions to UNICEF's ongoing support for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative can be made at http://www.supportunicef.org/
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative – facts and figures
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Mohammad Jalloh, UNICEF Media, New York: (212) 326 7516
Claire Hajaj, UNICEF Media, New York: (212) 326-7566
Damien Personnaz, UNICEF Media, Geneva: (+41 (0)22) 909 5515