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Sebastião Salgado publishes 'The End of Polio' as global eradication campaign goes down to the wire

"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

© Bulfinch Press/AOL TimeWarner

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:

  • Sebastião Salgado has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 2001.
  • The End of Polio - A Global Effort to End a Disease combines Salgado’s photography with a foreword by United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, and a central essay by Indian public health author Siddharth Dube. It also includes brief country profiles by UNICEF and WHO staff, an interview with one of the eradication effort’s architects, a timeline and other resources. The book is published in English by Bulfinch Press (AOL TimeWarner Book Group) and was produced by the New York multimedia company PixelPress. Separate editions in French, Italian and Portuguese are also being released.
  • The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) spearheading partners are WHO, Rotary International, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF. The GPEI is a public/private partnership and the largest public health initiative in history. In 2002, the partnership vaccinated more than 500 million children in 93 countries, with about 2 billion doses of oral polio vaccine.
  • Polio is now confined to just seven countries: Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Pakistan, Niger, Nigeria and Somalia.
  • The GPEI recently announced that a $210 million funding gap had caused a tactical shift in the fight against the disease.  The partners warned that although eradication is imminent, the gap must be filled before we can live in a polio-free world.
  •  In addition to his book, Sebastião Salgado’s polio documentation has brought the GPEI’s work to public attention with photo essays in major European and North American magazines, through the donation of his photographs for a partner web site – www.endofpolio.org – and in an exhibition that has toured three continents. More than $40,000 in individual donations to support polio eradication has been received in direct response to Salgado’s documentation.

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

  • The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (UNICEF, WHO, Rotary International and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)) is the largest public health initiative in history and the most comprehensive public/private partnership ever convened.  It brings together international agencies, governments, private enterprise, NGOs, health workers, community and religious leaders and millions of volunteers, working in every corner of the globe to vaccinate every single child under five against polio and create a polio free world;
  • Since its inception in 1988 the Global Polio Eradication Initiative has cut the transmission of polio by more than 99 percent;  
  • By 2003, poliovirus was confined to only 7 countries (Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Nigeria, Niger, Pakistan and Somalia), the lowest number in history;
  • The goal is to see all regions certified “polio-free” by 2008.  Certification requires three years to pass without recording a case of polio;
  • Partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative have stated that they are $210 million short of the funds needed to stamp out polio.  This “funding gap” is one of the most significant threats to the achievement of global eradication.
    Progress towards a polio-free world;
  • In 2002, more than 500 million children were vaccinated in 93 countries, with about 2 billion doses of oral polio vaccine during over 250 immunization activities.
  • So far in 2003, the world has confirmed 359 cases of polio in six countries - Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Nigeria, Niger and Pakistan - with eight importations into Lebanon, Burkina Faso, Togo and Ghana.  Somalia, which is still on the list of endemic countries, has not recorded a case of polio so far this year.
  • The Americas were certified polio-free in 1994.
  • The Western Pacific was certified polio-free in 2000.
  • Europe, composed of 51 countries, was certified polio-free in June 2002. 
  • Polio is rapidly disappearing from Northern and Eastern Africa. It has been driven out of the Arabian Peninsula, Southern Africa and East Asia and the Pacific.
  • 35 million childen were immunized in NIDs throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2002, in the midst of conflict and civil instability in that region.
  • The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has immunized over 11 million children in NIDS despite ongoing conflict.  It now appears to be polio free.

About Polio:

  • Poliomyelitis (polio) is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus.  It invades the nervous system, and can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours.  The virus enters the body through the mouth and multiplies in the intestine.  Initial symptoms are fever, fatigue, vomiting, stiffness in the neck and pain in the limbs.  One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis (usually in legs). Among those paralysed, 5%-10% die when their breathing muscles become immobilized.
  • Polio paralyzed or killed up to a half a million people every year at its peak, before Jonas Salk invented a vaccine in 1955. Today, paralyzed legs, 'iron lungs' and polio deaths are relegated to history books in the industrialized world. However, polio remains a dire threat to children in areas where the virus still circulates, mainly in South Asia and Africa.

For further information please contact us:

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




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