(Daily Express, Nov 2000)


IN 1988 the World Health Authority set itself an ambitious goal: by the year 2000, the planet was to have been rid of the crippling polio virus. After all, success in the Sixties and Seventies in eradicating smallpox showed what could be done. But by the start of the new millennium, the WHA had only been partially successful. In 12 years the number of cases had fallen by 95 per cent from an estimated 350,000 worldwide.

By 1999 the number of countries infected had fallen too —from 125 to 30 and the Americas, at last, were polio-free.

However, the goal of the total elimination of the virus remains a fair distance away. Polio, now concentrated in parts of sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian sub-continent, is still a threat to health worldwide. Only a generation ago, in the Fifties, thousands of British children contracted polio —- and only action now will ensure that can’t happen again.

In September this year a special conference was convened at the United Nations and a new, pledge made. It has been described as a race of Olympic proportions. The Global Polio Partnership, made up of leaders -from business. governments, UN agencies and humanitarian groups, has committed itself to the total eradication of polio by 2005. "Our race to reach the last child is a race against time," said Unitedd Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. "If we do not seize the chance now the virus will regain its grip and the opportunity will elude us for ever."

To achieve the task, the partnership has pledged to raise the $1 Billion needed to enable the world to completely halt polio virus transmission within the next 24 months — and to certify a polio free world in 2005.

Last year there was an estimated 20,000 new cases of polio. One victim in 200 can expect to be crippled for life if they survive. There’s no cure and as many thousands of children act as carriers of the disease, only a programme of vaccination offers hope of halting polio once and for all.