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Tuesday, 18 June, 2002, 10:26 GMT 11:26 UK
Europe achieves polio milestone
Child being given polio vaccine (Press Association)
Polio is still a problem in parts of south Asia and Africa
Europe is now free of polio, with the prospect of global eradication within three years, experts have announced.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared that 51 European nations are now polio-free, calling it "the most important public health milestone of the new Millennium".


Certification is a major milestone on the way to declaring the world polio free

Claudia Drake, WHO
So far, the Americas and 37 Pacific Rim countries have been certified polio-free.

International public health experts meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark, said Europe could be added to the list.

Claudia Drake, a spokesperson for the WHO, told BBC News Online: "Certification is a major milestone on the way to declaring the world polio free, which we are hoping will happen by the end of 2005".

Vigilance

The last indigenous case of polio in Europe was reported in Turkey three years ago.

Poliomyelitis (polio)
A highly infectious disease caused by a virus
Invades the nervous system, and can cause paralysis in hours
Initial symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness in the neck
Mainly affects children under five
No cure but it can be prevented
Polio vaccine can protect a child for life
But European countries will have to remain vigilant for cases, and show that they can detect and respond to outbreaks of polio brought in from abroad.

Polio is still endemic in 10 countries in Africa and Asia.

The WHO called for further funding for its global vaccination programmes to achieve its aim of completely eradicating polio.

'Iron lungs'

Polio was once a common childhood disease in the UK.

It causes fever, fatigue and headaches followed by permanent paralysis.

Thousands of polio victims were left confined to "iron lungs" in the 1940s and 50s.

The huge metal cylinders regulated their breathing and kept them alive UK polio epidemic 50 years ago.

The charity Action Research was set up 50 years ago to carry out work into polio, which was at epidemic levels in the UK at the time.

Chief executive Simon Moore said: "Back in the 1940s and 50s there were summer after summer of polio epidemics, and parents lived in fear that their children might contract the disease and be left crippled or paralysed, or confined to an iron lung for the rest of their lives.

"Nowadays, more than 2 million doses of polio vaccines are administered every year in this country alone, protecting newborn infants and adults requiring boosters. That's equivalent to 1,000 vaccinations each hour every working day."

See also:

29 Oct 00 | Health
16 Apr 02 | Health
07 Jul 99 | In Depth
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