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The final countdown to a polio-free world

Who: Ministers of Health from six remaining polio-afflicted countries (India, Pakistan, Egypt, Afghanistan and Niger, Nigeria), UNICEF and WHO

What: High-Level Ministerial Meeting and Launch of the Final Countdown to a Polio-Free World; Global and country-specific plans to intensify Polio Immunization Activities in 2004.  Signing of the Geneva Declaration for a Polio-Free World by end-2004.

Where: Geneva

When: 15 January 2004

Why:  Polio is poised to become the first disease of the twenty-first century to be eradicated. Polio transmission levels are now at their lowest ever, with the virus beaten back to only a few remaining reservoirs in India, Pakistan, Egypt, Afghanistan and Niger, presenting an unprecedented opportunity to eradicate a disease that once crippled hundreds of thousands of children each year. Risks have also increased.  In 2003, funding shortfalls required most polio-free countries to stop their polio immunization campaigns. This heightened vulnerability was visibly demonstrated last year when poliovirus from Nigeria spread into previously polio-free countries, putting 15 million children at risk and necessitating a massive immunization campaign across five countries in west and central Africa.  The success or failure of the world’s largest health initiative now rests with the governments of the six endemic countries. These countries must launch an all out effort to reach every child with the polio vaccine during 2004.

For further information, please contact:

Kate Donovan, UNICEF/New York (1-212) 326 7452




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