The Progress of Nations

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 The power of immunization
 Data briefs: Progress and disparity

Polio: Eradication within sight

A comprehensive global campaign to reach the milestone of polio eradication by the year 2000 has pushed back the number of detected cases so far to about 7,000. The campaign has also narrowed the disease’s reach: The number of countries reporting the presence of polio dropped from 50 to 30 between 1998 and 1999 alone. When the campaign began in 1988, there were 35,000 cases confirmed worldwide. It is estimated that these represented only one tenth of all cases occurring at that time in virtually all developing countries.

India now has the greatest number of polio cases, followed by Angola and Nigeria. Four large-scale National Immunization Days (NIDs) were held in India last year reaching as many as 147 million children in a single day; as a result, reported cases declined by approximately 40%.

The greatest efforts this year will be concentrated in the 14 countries with the highest risk for continued transmission of polio into the year 2001. These are Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh, Chad, Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, India, Iraq, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia and Sudan.

Inadequate surveillance in several of these countries means that available figures could be inaccurate and the countries are not expected to achieve eradication by the end of the year 2000. Campaigns to end polio will therefore have to be maintained through 2003, with an intensification of activities such as house-to-house immunization and redoubling of efforts to reach the unreached.

Copyright© UNICEF/EPI data as of May 2000
Note: This map does not reflect a position by UNICEF on the legal status of any country or territory or the delimitation of any frontiers.

The delay to achieve eradication is minor compared to the remarkable progress made to date. Last year alone, through National and Sub-National Immunization Days, 470 million children in 83 countries were immunized. In 52 of these countries, vitamin A supplementation, which helps reduce childhood deaths from common infections, was included in the immunization activities.

Continuing conflicts in some countries in Africa and South Asia posed serious challenges to the polio eradication efforts, but effective interventions by the United Nations Secretary-General, UN agencies and other partners yielded truces during which warring factions silenced their guns for specified days to allow immunization teams to reach children in conflict areas. As a result of these ‘days of tranquillity’, 8.7 million children in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 4.4 million in Afghanistan and 3 million in Angola were immunized in 1999.

Similar interventions were carried out in war-torn Sierra Leone and southern Sudan, and more will be needed this year and the next to ensure that every child is reached if the world is to achieve the global certification of polio eradication in the year 2005.

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