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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 July, 2003, 10:40 GMT 11:40 UK
WHO steps up polio fight
Child receiving polio vaccination
An Indian child is vaccinated against polio
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced a programme of mass polio immunisation in the four countries where the disease remains a major problem.

It is planned to immunise a total of 175 million children in India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Egypt by the end of the year.

Together, the four countries account for 99% of new cases of the disease.

I want to see this disease gone once and for all
Jong-wook Lee
WHO director-general Jong-wook Lee said he wanted every child in those countries to be vaccinated against polio.

But he warned that WHO was short of funding to sustain the effort.

"I want to see this disease gone once and for all. We have eliminated it from almost every country in the world.

"Now is the time to boost our action and resolve, and wipe it out everywhere.

"I am immediately upgrading WHO's capacity to support India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Egypt in their efforts to immunise every child against polio."

Missed target

The WHO had been aiming to eradicate polio worldwide by 2000, but its campaign was thwarted because the virus is still circulating in seven countries, down from 125 when the eradication drive started in 1988.

They include Afghanistan, Niger and Somalia, as well as the four countries targeted in the immunisation campaign starting in August.

WHO recorded 1,919 cases of polio last year.

Poliomyelitis, to give it its full name, is an acute viral infection which mainly affects children and can be spread by simple physical concact.

It causes permanent paralysis and other forms of physical disability in many of its victims.

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