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U.N. plan to end polio to take another year

A U.N.-led campaign conceded that it would miss its target of halting the spread of polio worldwide by year-end, saying it would take another year to complete the job in northern Nigeria.
YEMEN POLIO
Ahmed Ali Taher holds his 1-year-old granddaughter, Ismaa, who was crippled by polio, on Sept. 29. A polio outbreak ravaged their impoverished village of Az Zuhrah, Yemen. Since February, more than 470 Yemeni children have been struck by the illness.Paul Garwood / AP
/ Source: Reuters

A U.N.-led campaign conceded on Wednesday that it would miss its target of halting the spread of polio worldwide by year-end, saying it would take another year to complete the job in northern Nigeria.

The $4 billion effort, begun in 1988 and led by the World Health Organization, had hoped to halt transmission this year of the crippling virus, which can cause irreversible paralysis in children within hours.

But polio spread from Nigeria in the past two years to 18 countries, mainly in West and Central Africa, but also jumping as far as Yemen, after the northern Nigeria state of Kano banned immunizations for a 10-month period in 2003-2004.

“The group concluded that at least a further 12 months were needed to finish the job in Nigeria,” said a statement issued by the Advisory Committee on Polio Eradication after Geneva talks.

The committee is an independent, technical oversight body of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, a partnership linking the WHO, the U.N. Children’s Fund, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Rotary International.

“Africa, outside of Nigeria, is back on track ... Nigeria remains the single greatest risk to eradication,” David Heymann, WHO’s representative for polio eradication, told a briefing.

The committee also voiced optimism that an oral vaccine, licensed this year by French drugmaker Sanofi-Aventis, would help stop an epidemic of the crippling disease still raging in Indonesia, and prevent new cases in countries where the virus is endemic, such as Egypt and India.

So far this year 1,349 polio cases have been reported worldwide, including 489 in Nigeria, 472 in Yemen and 264 in Indonesia, according to figures issued on Wednesday.

Last year there were a total of 1,255 cases.