20 October 2003


NEW YORK, 20 October (UN Headquarters) -- Following is Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s message on polio eradication   on the occasion of the tenth Islamic Summit Conference in Kuala Lumpur, 16-17 October, delivered by Dr. Abdelaziz Saleh, Special Adviser to the Regional Director on Medicines, World Health Organization Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean:


The campaign to eradicate polio is an illustration of the very founding principles of the United Nations.  For the sake of our children, this humanitarian goal has transcended politics and dispute.  Civil wars have stopped to let vaccinators pass. Governments, international agencies, private enterprise and   20 million dedicated volunteers have worked together to achieve the impossible.  Billions of children have been vaccinated in all corners of the world, including in regions that have suffered years of conflict.  Last year, polio could be found in only seven countries -- Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Niger, Afghanistan, Egypt, and Somalia.  By 2005, thanks to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, 5 million children will be walking who would otherwise have been paralysed.

Yet this progress is extremely fragile, and could still be undone if we do not urgently increase support for this final stage of the eradication effort.  As long as poliovirus transmission continues, children the world over are at risk of being infected.  This year, polio-free areas in West Africa and the Middle East have been reinfected with the virus, endangering the significant investments made by countries in those regions.  In order to preserve the substantial gains achieved to date, two major obstacles must be overcome.

First, all children under the age of five in the seven remaining polio-infected countries must be vaccinated multiple times with the oral polio vaccine during mass campaigns.  The political, traditional and religious leaders of every community where the virus is found must be mobilized to ensure that no child is missed.

Second, the world must quickly secure the necessary financial resources.  Only $210 million is lacking for polio-eradication activities through 2005 -- a relatively small sum of money to reap a huge global triumph for children.  The most urgent funding requirement is for the polio-surveillance infrastructure to ensure rapid detection and response to the disease, to access children in remote and dangerous regions, and to monitor every village so that the virus has nowhere to hide.  If these funds are not made available soon, we will put at risk the    $3 billion investment behind the success of the past 15 years.

Once polio is eradicated, no child and no child’s family will ever again know the debilitating effects of polio paralysis.  The world could save up to  $1.5 billion annually in averted health-care costs -- savings that can be reallocated to other pressing global health needs.  Countries will benefit from having a stronger workforce.  Above all, we will have given a wonderful and enduring gift to the children of the world.

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