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Polio is a highly infectious
disease that can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours. It can strike at
any age, but affects mainly children under the age of three.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is one of the largest public health campaigns in history. Since 1988, United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the World Health Organization; the United Nations International Children's Fund; and Rotary International, together with scores of donor countries and foundations have been working to eradicate polio by immunizing every child under age 5.
Through their efforts, the disease has been eliminated from most of the world and remains endemic in only four countries, namely Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan.
In mid December, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative began to use a bivalent vaccine that protects against two types of polio. Afghanistan was the first country to introduce this new vaccine, and others will follow that nation's lead during coming months, marking the adoption of a major new tool in the international effort to eradicate polio.
In his June 4th speech at Cairo University, President Obama, wishing to promote further cooperation in the polio eradication effort and with the Administration's general priority on global health, announced that the United States would partner with the Organization of the Islamic Conference, or OIC, to work to abolish polio. That partnership has begun to take shape, and fostered a panel discussion earlier this month at UNICEF headquarters in New York. That discussion underscored the need for re-invigorated action toward the final eradication of polio. The OIC has already begun to secure the necessary community-level political and religious support for polio vaccination in member countries.
December's vaccination campaign in Afghanistan targeted some 2.8 million children under the age of five for immunization against Polio. According to the World Health Organization, the new vaccine is very effective against both types of the disease still in circulation. It will be a vital tool in the fight against this crippling disease. The U.S. will work with all partners to assure that no child is paralyzed from a disease that can be prevented for approximately $1 per child. Since the global program started, nearly 6 million cases of childhood paralysis have been averted, and the number of cases, worldwide has declined by 99 percent. The U.S. is committed to reaching the last 1 percent of children and certifying the world polio free.