WHO News

A second WHO region declared polio-free

On October 29, a panel of independent experts meeting in Japan declared WHO’s Western Pacific Region free of poliomyelitis. The declaration, made by the region’s commission for the certification of polio eradication, signifies that no indigenous cases — as distinct from imported cases — of the disease have occurred over the past three years. The last case in the region was that in a 15-month-old girl in Cambodia, paralysed by the disease in March 1997.

China, the biggest country in the region, last year reported a case of polio in its remote Qinghai province, that turned out not to be indigenous but due to an imported virus — imported in all probability from northern India. A major emergency operation to prevent its spread from this case cost the Chinese government and donor agencies about US$ 14 million.

With its 37 countries accounting for a quarter of the world’s population, the Western Pacific now joins the 800 million inhabitants of WHO’s Region of the Americas — declared polio-free in 1994 — in leading the march towards global certification of eradication of the disease, set for 2005. The European Region, which has reported no new cases in almost two years, is expected to add its 51 countries and nearly 900 million inhabitants to the polio-free club in just over a year. More than half of the world’s population will then be officially free of the disease, leaving 20 countries, mainly in Africa — West and Central, and the Horn of Africa — and parts of Asia, still striving to rid themselves of the virus.

Massive immunization campaigns are under way to vaccinate more than 200 million children in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan, and about 70 million children in 17 countries in Africa where poliovirus is still circulating.

Since WHO launched the global drive to eradicate polio in 1988, cases have dropped steadily year by year from an estimated 350 000 in 1988 to 7094 reported in 1999 and only 1481 reported so far this year, as of this writing.

John Maurice, Bulletin

World Health Organization Genebra - Genebra - Switzerland
E-mail: bulletin@who.int