This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, in VOA Special English. I’m Bob Doughty.
And I’m Faith Lapidus. This week, we tell about efforts to defeat the disease
polio. Polio is spreading again
after almost disappearing.
Experts say hundreds of thousands of people could get polio unless the
disease is stopped in areas where it has always been present. They also say
political and financial support is needed to fight polio.
advising the World Health Organization met recently in Geneva, Switzerland. They
reported that Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan have endemic polio. That
means poliovirus is continually present there. The experts warned that this
presence threatens almost two hundred countries now free of the virus. Polio
spreads easily from person to person. It easily crosses national borders.
Conference chairman Steve Cochi said the countries with endemic polio can
defeat the disease. But Doctor Cochi said political leaders need to help. He
noted progress in Afghanistan after Afghan President Hamid Karzai organized a
polio advisory group. Conflict in southern Afghanistan has harmed efforts to
provide children with anti-polio medicine called a vaccine.
About 70 percent of the world’s polio cases are in Nigeria. Almost nine
hundred new cases have been reported there this year. The new cases are mainly
in northern Nigeria. Problems there helped delay the goal of ending the threat
from polio by 2007.
False reports had been spreading in northern Nigeria. The reports said a
campaign to provide polio vaccines was really a plot to harm Muslims. As a
result, the vaccinations stopped for about a year. That was in 2003
and 2004. Many new cases then developed.
Polio from Nigeria spread as far as Indonesia. For this reason, a special
vaccination program took place in Nigeria last month.
In India, the number of polio cases has increased almost ten times compared
to the same period last year. Poor areas of Uttar Pradesh Province are
responsible for much of the increase. Pakistan has about the same number of
cases this year as it did in the same period last year.
Yagob Yousef Al-Mazrou is an advisory committee member and represents Saudi
Arabia’s Ministry of Health. He says his nation is concerned about visitors
spreading the virus. Millions of people arrive in Saudi Arabia each year for the
Islamic religious event called the Hajj.
Doctor Al-Mazrou said his nation now requires evidence of vaccination for
visitors from polio-affected countries. Children from those countries are given
polio vaccines at the Saudi border. This is true even if they had been
Robert Scott represented the Global Polio Eradication Initiative at the
conference. The group has been working against polio for almost twenty years.
During that period, the world polio rate has fallen by more than 99
Doctor Scott placed importance on the need for the international community to
provide money for vaccination campaigns. The doctor is an official of Rotary
International, a service organization and Initiative member. Rotary has given
millions of dollars to fight polio.
In the 1990s, it seemed that modern medicine might soon defeat polio.
Health officials set 2000 as a target date for the end of new cases. But
before anyone could celebrate, more cases were reported. Officials re-set the
date for defeating polio to 2005. Then they delayed again, to 2007. Still, the
disease keeps spreading.
But polio fighters keep striking back. As part of that effort, the World
Health Organization launched a campaign in eastern Africa in September. It was
the largest such attempt ever made in several countries at once. More than three
million children were protected against the disease within a few days.
Prevention is important because antibiotic drugs cannot help after someone is
infected. Antibiotics can kill only bacteria, not viruses.
Poliovirus spreads from person to person. Its victims often are young
children. But adults also get polio. Many people are infected without knowing
it. They may have just a higher than normal body temperature and pain in the
throat. But polio sometimes attacks the central nervous system. In just hours,
polio patients may not be able to stand or walk. And, some die.
Children who received vaccines in the recent Africa campaign
live along the borders of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. Some roads in
eastern Africa were not passable. But health workers used horses and other
animals to reach the children. The workers provided each child with two drops of
the vaccine by mouth.
Almost one million children received the vaccine in Ethiopia. That nation
reported 37 polio cases since December of 2004. The children live in areas
that share borders with Somalia and Kenya.
Finding all the children who needed the vaccine was difficult. Recent
flooding in Ethiopia and Somalia displaced many people. Somalia and northern
Kenya also have many communities of people who move from place to place.
Until 2005, Somalia had not had any polio cases for three years.
But then, 250 people became sick with the disease. Officials say the virus
came from Yemen.
Health workers attempted to reach more than 1500,000
children on the Somali side of the Ethiopian border. Health conditions are poor
in Somalia, which has no effective central government. Special efforts were made
to include children in areas near the borders with Ethiopia and Kenya.
In northern Kenya, 250,000 children were vaccinated. Kenya last week reported
its first case of polio in more than 20 years. The patient is a
three-year-old Somali girl born in a refugee camp in Kenya. She had received a
polio vaccine and had never been in Somalia.
The World Health Organization says many people gave their time so that all
the children could be reached. Groups of women and young people helped.
Religious leaders and teachers assisted members of governmental and
The campaign was the first of three large campaigns for the Horn of Africa
that the W.H.O. hopes to launch this year. At present, however, 50 million
dollars is needed to pay for vaccinations in November and December. The
organization says without this money, more children will be unable to walk
without help. About five to ten percent of those who lose use of their arms or
legs also lose their ability to breathe without support and die.
The W.H.O. says the Global Polio Eradication Initiative is the largest public
health campaign ever organized. Its main supporters include national governments
and UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund. Another supporter is America’s
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Even with the recent cases of polio, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative
has made a big difference. Eighteen years ago, 125 countries reported three
hundred fifty thousand polio cases. This year, about 1,200 people have been
Wild poliovirus passes freely from person to person. It spreads through mouth
fluids, waste material, and water systems. Another kind of polio is rare. That
kind happens when unexpected genetic changes take place in the Oral Polio
The success of the first polio vaccine was announced in 1955. American Jonas
Salk and his team proved that a vaccine made from a killed virus could kill
poliovirus. The Salk vaccine was given by injection. Polio rates decreased
greatly in people who had been vaccinated.
Later, Albert Sabin used a live, but weakened poliovirus to build protection
against the disease. That is the kind of vaccine used for years in huge
campaigns in Africa and Asia. Experts say recent changes to the vaccine are
Today, people everywhere hope that anti-polio campaigners armed with vaccine
will defeat polio at last.
This program was written by Jerilyn Watson. Brianna Blake was our producer.
I’m Bob Doughty.
And I’m Faith Lapidus. Join us again next week for SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in VOA