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Mia Farrow Visits Nigeria, Fights to Eradicate Polio
Her First Mission as UNICEF Special Representative

Mia Farrow chatted with CNN.com on 24 January about the National Immunization Day campaign to reach 40 million children in Nigeria. For the transcript, go to CNN.com

The 15 January Media Advisory (with video clips, previous releases, and more)

Saturday, 20 January 2001: Actress Mia Farrow will help launch a countrywide polio vaccination campaign in Nigeria on Saturday, designed to immunize every single child under age five -- a total of 40 million children.

The three-day event, called a National Immunization Day or NID, is an immense undertaking in which tens of thousands of health professionals and volunteers blanket the country to drop the polio vaccine into children's mouths. Nigeria, one of the last countries still plagued by intense transmission of the crippling virus, is a linchpin in the worldwide campaign to eradicate polio.

Accompanied by her 13-year-old son Seamus in her first international mission since being appointed UNICEF Special Representative last September, Ms. Farrow stressed the need for global support for the eradication effort.

"In the West, most people think polio is a relic of the past. But millions of children remain at risk in some of the world's poorest countries," said Ms. Farrow. "Far from forgetting these countries, we must focus even more attention on them until every child everywhere has been immunized. Then, and only then, will the virus die out."

A tireless advocate for children's rights, Ms. Farrow knows firsthand the debilitating effects of polio. She was infected with the virus as a child, but, unlike many, recovered. Another of her sons, Thaddeus, 12, contracted polio in an orphanage in India and is paralyzed from the waist down.

The global campaign to eradicate polio is in its final stages. By 2005, UNICEF and its partners (including Rotary International, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization and national governments) hope to make polio the second disease ever eradicated. The WHO officially declared smallpox eradicated in 1980.

Rotary International, the lead private sector partner in the effort, is sending a delegation to Nigeria led by Louis Piconi, the organization's vice president. "Eradicating polio is Rotary's highest priority," said Piconi. "Many thanks to Mia Farrow and our global partners in joining together to ensure that nothing derails the dream of a polio-free world."

The eradication campaign is one of the largest public health initiatives ever. In only one week last year, 17 countries in West Africa synchronized their polio immunization efforts and vaccinated more than 70 million children. Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo worked with other Heads of State to mobilize support for the synchronization effort in the region. The number of countries still plagued by polio has dropped from 125 to 20.

The remaining endemic countries are concentrated in parts of Africa and South Asia. There, the main problem is logistics. Factors such as conflict, remote geography and little infrastructure make immunization campaigns extremely complex. Organizers must inform people in remote areas, establish relay points to keep the vaccine chilled and, in many places, convince warring parties to lay down their arms and let the vaccinators through. All this requires concerted efforts from local governments and the international partners behind the campaign.

It also takes money. The total financial support required through the target date of 2005 is US$1 billion; the estimated funding shortfall stands at US$450 million. "We've come a long way in the last decade. But the difficulties in getting the vaccine to children in these last few countries means we must redouble our efforts," said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy. "This unprecedented global partnership has worked remarkably well. But it's not over. We still need funding and support to see this campaign through to the end."

***

Notes to editors:
Ms. Farrow will be available Wednesday, 24 January 2001 in New York to conduct interviews with the media. Her son Seamus has also agreed to be available for limited interviews by special appointment.

For further information, please contact:

Mohammad Jalloh, UNICEF New York, Tel: (+1 212) 326-7516
mjalloh@unicef.org

Mitchie Topper, UNICEF New York, Tel: (+1 212) 303 7910
mtopper@unicef.org

Shima Islam, UNICEF New York, Tel: (+1 212) 824 6949
sislam@unicef.org