The World Health Organization, or W-H-O, says that polio has been wiped out in Egypt and Niger. Hatem Mostafa el-Gabaly, Egypt's health minister, says, "Polio has been endemic in our country for all of recorded history." Now, he says, "The best tools of our age finally defeated this enemy who has been with us from Pharaonic times."
David Heymann, head of W.H.O.'s Polio Eradication Initiative, says that no indigenous cases of the paralyzing and potentially fatal virus have been reported in Egypt and Niger in the past twelve months:
"Egypt has remained free because it is fairly isolated from other countries with polio, being in the north of Africa where polio has been eliminated. But, Niger is just next to Nigeria and so periodically they are still receiving imported cases of polio from Nigeria. But this is not polio which had its origins in Niger."
In 2003, officials in three northern Islamic states in Nigeria stopped polio immunizations after false claims were made that the polio vaccine caused H-I-V/AIDS and infertility. Soon thereafter, polio from Nigeria spread to eighteen countries as far away as Indonesia and Yemen. Those countries have since launched mass immunization campaigns. According to Dr. Heymann, "the rumors about the safety of polio vaccine are still circulating in northern Nigeria."
"We now have the governors of northern Nigeria very engaged in helping their public understand that these vaccines have now been proven to be safe. Religious leaders are also working hard to convince their populations that the vaccine is safe."
The key partners in the worldwide polio initiative include the United Nations; the U.S. Centers for Disease Control; and Rotary International, a nongovernmental organization. The U.S. has pledged more than nine-hundred million dollars for the eradication of polio. President George W. Bush says the U.S. is committed to taking all necessary steps to eliminate this disease.
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.