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Press release

India launches largest ever campaign to tackle polio epidemic

165 million children to be vaccinated in a country faced with 85 percent of new polio cases in the world

GENEVA/NEW YORK, 5 February 2003 - To combat the largest polio epidemic in recent history, on 9 February India will launch the largest ever mass immunization campaign against polio, targeting 165 million children.

Over 1.3 million vaccination teams of volunteers and health workers, equipped with nearly 200 million doses of vaccine, will go house-to-house and work at booths in communities to reach every child under the age of five years. To succeed, the teams will have to cover a country the size of Western Europe in six days.

The campaign, the second of 2003, is to combat a growing polio epidemic that swept the northern part of the country last year. In 2002, the target year to stop poliovirus transmission globally, India was one of only two countries (with Nigeria) to see a significant rise in new cases. New cases totalling 1,556 were confirmed, representing 85 percent of new polio cases worldwide. The northern state of Uttar Pradesh, with a population of 173 million, accounted for 66 percent of cases in the world. 1

"This is an extraordinary epidemic," said Dr Daniel Tarantola, Director of Vaccines and Biologicals at the World Health Organization. "It requires an extraordinary effort by a whole range of national and international partners. After 15 years of progress, we are very focused on India, where stopping transmission will be a monumental task. This campaign in February is exactly the kind of response necessary to protect the children of India, and indeed the world, from this devastating disease and tackle this final stage of eradication head-on."

In January, the Governments of India and Uttar Pradesh worked closely with WHO, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF to organize a mass campaign that vaccinated over 33 million children in Uttar Pradesh. Although 3 million more children came to vaccination booths 2 than in past campaigns, organizers maintain they must reach even more children to stop the epidemic. This includes vaccinating the 250 000 babies born in Uttar Pradesh alone since early January.

"We're facing an enormous job," said Maria Calivis, Country Representative of UNICEF in India. "We have to stop polio in India. We all have to work together to reach every Indian child with polio vaccine and make sure the vast numbers of children in Uttar Pradesh receive vaccine this month and throughout 2003 and 2004. Beyond this programme, a huge effort is needed to ensure routine immunization and quality primary health services. Today, most of India is polio-free and none of us wants to see a reversal of the gains made in the past several years."

To galvanize communities, Rotary International and UNICEF are supporting the national and Uttar Pradesh governments, working with such organizations as Aligarh Muslim University and community leaders, and Indian film and cricket stars. Three hundred and fifty thousand children have participated in drawing competitions to highlight the event, while nearly 1000 rallies in communities have been organized.

"We are now putting everything into place to curtail this epidemic," said Dr Sobhan Sarkar, Deputy Commissioner - Child Health, Government of India. "Indians want their country to be polio-free. We recognize the urgency to stop transmission of this crippling disease which has historically taken such a drastic toll on our country."

Polio eradication is facing a funding gap of US$ 275 million worldwide, and US$ 100 million in India alone. To help counter this shortfall, Rotary International is intensifying its fundraising efforts with the goal of raising US$ 80 million by June 2003 - in addition to the US$ 500 million Rotary has committed since 1985. "We will do everything in our power to ensure that nothing derails the dream of a polio-free world," commented Bill Sergeant of Rotary International. "The international community must also step up efforts so that all children are protected from this tragic disease." In a demonstration of its commitment to India, 65 Rotary volunteers from around the world will travel to Uttar Pradesh and New Delhi to administer the polio vaccine to children first-hand.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is spearheaded by WHO, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF.

The poliovirus is now circulating in only seven countries around the world, reduced from over 125 when the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched in 1988. The seven countries with indigenous wild poliovirus are (from highest to lowest risk): India, Nigeria, Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Niger and Somalia.


1) The number of confirmed cases as of 28 January 2003 in India. To date, Nigeria has confirmed 187 cases in 2002, as compared to 56 in 2001.

2) In addition to conducting house-to-house immunizations, vaccination booths are set up at central locations, giving parents the opportunity to bring their children for immunization.

For further information, please contact :

Oliver Rosenbauer, WHO, Geneva, (+41 22 791 3832), rosenbauero@who.int
Vivian Fiore, Rotary International, Chicago (+1 847 866 3234), fiorev@rotaryintl.org
Bob Keegan, CDC, Atlanta (+1 404 639 8724), rak1@cdc.gov
Elizabeth Kramer, UNICEF, New York (+1 212 326 7566), ekramer@unicef.org
Marc Vergara, UNICEF, Geneva (+41 22 909 5513), mvergara@unicef.org

In India:

Louise Baker, the WHO Office for South East Asia, New Delhi (mobile +91 981041227), bakerl@whosea.org
Corinne Woods, UNICEF India, New Delhi, (+91 981 821 0115), cwoods@unicef.org




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