Joint Press Release
Europe achieves historic milestone as region
is declared polio-free
Global polio eradication effort needs
US$ 275 million to protect this achievement
Copenhagen 21 June 2002 -- The historic decision to certify
the WHO European Region polio-free was announced today
at a meeting of the European Regional Commission for Certification
of Poliomyelitis Eradication (RCC) in Copenhagen. For
some 870 million people living in the region's 51 Member
States, this landmark decision is the most important public
health milestone of the new millennium.
"This is a tremendous achievement in the global
effort to eradicate polio. To get where we are today required
the full commitment and cooperation of each of our 51
Member States, the hard work of public health workers
in the field and the firm support of international partners
in coordination with WHO," declared Dr Marc Danzon,
WHO Regional Director for Europe.
The European Region has been free of indigenous polio
for over three years. Europe's last case of indigenous
wild poliomyelitis occurred in eastern Turkey in 1998,
when a two-year-old unvaccinated boy was paralysed by
the virus. Poliovirus imported from polio-endemic countries
remains a threat. In 2001 alone, there were three polio
cases among Roma children in Bulgaria and one non-paralytic
polio case in Georgia -- all caused by poliovirus of Asian
subcontinent origin. A decade ago, an imported poliovirus
paralysed 71 people and caused two deaths in a community
which refused vaccination in the Netherlands.
Of the recent importations, Sir Joseph Smith, Chairman
of the RCC noted, "We are satisfied that all measures
were taken to ensure that wild poliovirus imported into
the Region did not lead to ongoing circulation. All evidence
confirms that. However," he cautioned, "Our
work does not stop here. Throughout the European Region,
ongoing vaccination and surveillance is vital. The risk
of poliovirus being imported into Europe will continue
until we eradicate polio globally."
The path to a polio-free Europe began in 1988, following
the call of the World Health Assembly to eradicate polio.
A partnership was set up, spearheaded by WHO, Rotary International,
the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
and UNICEF, to free the world of the disease. Success
in Europe was achieved through unprecedented coordinated
national immunization campaigns, known as Operation MECACAR,
which involved 18 polio-endemic countries and areas in
the WHO European and Eastern Mediterranean Regions . Sixty
million children under five years old received two extra
doses of poliovaccine every year from 1995-98. Since 1997,
MECACAR included special door-to-door mass vaccination
in the high-risk areas of these countries. Supplementary
vaccination campaigns have continued in the highest risk
countries through 2002. This synchronization of immunization
days between neighboring countries has become a model
for eradicating polio globally.
An independent panel of international public health experts
who make up the RCC has been engaged in the formal polio-free
certification process in Europe since 1996. Before certification
could be declared, the RCC had to scrutinize surveillance
data and the evidence of national certification committees.
In addition, it received firm commitments from all ministries
of health on maintaining immunization and surveillance.
"Excellent surveillance for acute flaccid paralysis
is an essential tool in regional certification, and in
the global initiative to eradicate polio. It provides
the exact location and ages of every child stricken with
polio, guiding immediate immunization responses,"
said Dr David Fleming, Acting Director of the CDC. "Sustaining
surveillance will be vital in guarding against the ongoing
threat of importations."
In addition to maintaining immunization, surveillance
and the ability to respond to importations, European countries
are now cataloguing all laboratory stocks of the poliovirus,
as part of a global plan to ensure effective containment
in a polio-free world. In contrast to smallpox where absolute
containment was the goal, this plan aims for effective
containment, to minimise the risk of an accidental or
intentional reintroduction of wild poliovirus by handling
retained materials under the appropriate biosafety conditions.
Since the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched
in 1988, two regions have been certified polio-free: the
Americas in 1994, and the Western Pacific in 2000. Polio
cases have dropped from an estimated 350,000 cases in
125 countries in 1988 to 480 reported cases in only 10
polio-endemic countries in 2001.
"In Europe and elsewhere we have worked to reach
children living in some of the most difficult conditions
imaginable, including conflict-affected areas,"
said Philip D. O'Brien, UNICEF Regional Director for Central
and Eastern Europe. "This unprecedented effort,
which has been rewarded today with European certification,
must be continued until we reach all children, everywhere,
with polio vaccine."
A US$ 275 million funding gap for global eradication
activities through 2005 is now the single biggest threat
to achieving polio's eradication globally, required to
minimise the risk to the children of Europe. "This
is truly an historic achievement," said Rudolf Hörndler,
Chairman of the European PolioPlus Committee for Rotary
International. "Yet as we get closer to reaching
our goal of a polio-free world, we must not grow complacent.
Our toughest challenges are ahead of us -- a US$ 275 million
funding gap remains." As the volunteer arm and lead
private sector partner in the global effort to eradicate
polio, Rotary has contributed over US$ 14 million to end
polio in Europe, and US$ 462 million worldwide to date.
In addition, Rotary members volunteer their time to help
immunise children during national immunisation days. To
help the global effort to close the funding gap, Rotary
will launch its second major fundraising campaign to raise
US$ 80 million through 2003 this July.
For more information, please contact:
Jo Bailey, UNICEF,
New York +1 212 326-7566, firstname.lastname@example.org