Technology & Science

Polio eradication plan needs another $1B: WHO official

The next steps in the global campaign to eradicate polio will be discussed at an urgent, high-level meeting of health officials on Wednesday.

The next steps in the global campaign to eradicate polio will be discussed at an urgent, high-level meeting of health officials on Wednesday.

It's estimated that another $1 billion US and at least two more years are needed to end the spread of polio viruses in the four countries that still have cases: India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.

The new director general of the World Health Organization, Dr. Margaret Chan, wants to be assured that all partners remain committed to the goal, said Dr. David Heymann, an epidemiologist who leads WHO's polio eradication unit.

Donors and health experts will also attend the meeting in Geneva, Switzerland to discuss security in war-torn Afghanistan, health infrastructure, and how to motivate opinion leaders in affected countries to support the campaign.

Campaign setbacks

Vaccination efforts in Nigeria and Pakistan have been set back by rumours questioning the safety of the oral polio vaccine.

The program needs another $1 billion US from donors, which would bring the total for the campaign to more than $6 billion US, Heymann told Reuters.

Campaigners originally hoped to eradicate polio by 2000 and then 2005. The meeting is not expected to set a new target date.

Some polio experts are frustrated that WHO is using oral polio vaccine containing weakened but live polio virus rather than a more expensive but safer killed version of the virus that is injected.

The critics say the weakened version takes longer to provide immune protection, a delay that may allow the virus to mutate and spur future outbreaks.

Dr. D.A. Henderson, the veteran public health expert who led the successful campaign to eradicate smallpox in the 1970s, does not question the effectiveness of the oral vaccine, but argues that Somalia and Ethiopia should be included in the list of endemic countries where the virus is still transmitted.

WHO classifies polio cases in Somalia and Ethiopia as imported rather than endemic.

"This is a deception," Henderson, who is now with the University of Pittsburgh's center for biosecurity, said of the exclusions from the endemic list.

With files from the Canadian Press

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