This is Phoebe Zimmerman.
And this is Bob Doughty with Science in the News, a VOA Special
English program about recent developments in science. Today,
we tell about the deadly disease polio and efforts to end it
around the world.
(VOA Photos - Rosanne Skirble)
People do not usually celebrate a disease. But recently, in
the northern Nigerian village of Rogo, men and women gathered
for a special ceremony. The celebration launched National Immunization
Days in Nigeria. This is a government-organized campaign to
give polio vaccine medicine to more than forty-million Nigerian
children under age five. The message of the men and women singing
at the event is simple: Parents, give your children the polio
vaccine medicine. If you do not, you hurt yourselves and them.
In Nigeria, hand-operated pedals turn the wheels of this tricycle
for polio victims.
Efforts to end polio around the world started in nineteen-eighty-eight.
At that time, four international aid groups launched a campaign
to end polio by two-thousand-five. The groups are the World
Health Organization, the United Nations Children¡¯s
Fund, the private group Rotary International and the United
States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The campaign
is called the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
It has been very successful. Over the past fourteen years,
the number of new polio infections around the world has dropped
by more than ninety-nine percent.
When the campaign first started, more than three-hundred-fifty-thousand
new cases of polio were reported. In two-thousand-one, however,
there were just four-hundred-eighty-three new cases. The disease
used to infect people in one-hundred-twenty-five countries.
Now it is found in fewer than ten countries. Most of these remaining
cases are in parts of the world where getting the polio vaccine
to children has been difficult.
India, Pakistan and Nigeria currently have the most new cases
of polio. These nations share conditions that support the spread
of the disease. They include low rates of vaccination, unclean
living conditions, weak public health systems, and large crowded
populations. Nigeria, for example, has the largest population
in Africa ? more than one-hundred-twenty-million people.
This is why the Nigerian government holds National Immunization
Days several times a year. During these special campaigns, trained
health workers bring the polio vaccine to children in every
house in every village throughout the country.
In some countries, medical teams find it difficult to vaccinate
children against polio. This is because communities are far
from cities, or in areas where travel is difficult. Conflicts
are also a problem in some countries. Sometimes travel is not
permitted or areas are too dangerous to enter. These workers
in Nigeria, however, were lucky. They were able to bring the
polio vaccine to all the country¡¯s villages.
Polio is an infectious disease caused by a virus. It can affect
people at any age. However, it usually affects children under
age three. The virus enters through the mouth and then grows
inside the throat and intestines.
It can spread quickly through communities in drinking water
infected with human waste. It can also be passed through human
touch, such as kissing an infected person.
Signs of polio include a high temperature, stomach sickness,
and pain in the head and neck. Once the poliovirus becomes established
in the intestines, it can spread to the blood and nervous system.
When this happens, victims can become paralyzed. They lose the
ability to move. This paralysis is almost always permanent.
In very serious cases, the paralysis can lead to death because
victims are not able to breathe.
Stephen Cochi (CO-chee) heads international vaccination efforts
at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United
States. He says that one in two-hundred polio-infected children
in high-risk populations will become permanently paralyzed.
The other children will become carriers of the virus and may
spread the disease to other people.
There is no cure for polio, so the best treatment is prevention.
A few drops of a powerful vaccine medicine will protect a child
for life. The vaccine must be given four times over several
years to be fully effective.
The effects of polio can revisit some victims later in life.
This is called post-polio syndrome, or P-P-S. This condition
affects polio survivors about thirty-five years after their
first polio attack. Currently, there are about twenty-million
polio survivors around the world. Signs of the condition include
muscle weakness, pain in the head, neck and back, tiredness,
and trouble sleeping, breathing and swallowing. There is no
cure for P-P-S. However, rest and less physical activity can
help treat the condition.
During the nineteen-fifties, American scientists Jonas Salk
and Albert Sabin developed medicines that prevented polio. Before
these first vaccines were discovered, thousands of children
got the disease every year. Today, however, vaccine medicine
has made polio rare. In the United States, the vaccine is injected
into the body. However, in developing countries, the vaccine
is usually given by drops in the mouth. This method is more
effective for developing countries because so many children
need to be treated. Some young people, like this one in Nigeria,
do not like taking the medicine.
((SOUNDS: CHILD CRYING))
Health officials hope to halt the spread of polio in Nigeria.
The World Health Organization will declare the country polio-free
after three years of no new cases. This depends on the success
of the government¡¯s vaccination campaign. Over the
past four years, more than two-hundred-thousand people have
taken part in National Immunization Days in Nigeria. These trained
health workers usually work in teams of two people.
The teams bring the vaccine to children in villages. They also
look for signs of possible new cases. This kind of work permits
medical experts to study the virus and its development. Any
information about new polio cases is sent to an important health
laboratory in Africa. It is part of a special system of more
than one-hundred similar laboratories around the world.
This system of laboratories is the most complete for any disease.
Health officials use the system to examine the genetic form
of the polio virus and study how it spreads through populations.
This information helps health workers give polio vaccines to
children who live in the exact area where the disease started.
Officials say the campaign to end polio by two-thousand-five
has been very successful. However, some problems have developed.
One problem is finding well-trained people to give the vaccines
and investigate individual polio cases as they develop. The
international laboratory system has eased this problem. Officials
say it has helped build closer ties between public officials
and health workers around the world.
Since the polio campaign began fourteen years ago, two-thousand-million
children in ninety-four countries have been vaccinated. In two-thousand-one
alone, the vaccine was given to five-hundred-seventy-five-million
children. The World Health Organization estimates the international
polio campaign will cost about three-thousand-million dollars
during the next three years. Currently, plans to gain about
two-hundred-seventy-five-million dollars of that amount are
moving forward. Support has come from governments, international
agencies and many private aid groups, such as Rotary International.
This organization has given more money than any other private
Rotary International has given almost five-hundred-million
dollars. It has promised to raise about eighty-million dollars
by the end of this year. This is a lot of money. However, Rotary
International says that no price is too high to pay to end polio
This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS program was written by Jill Moss.
It was produced by George Grow. This is Bob Doughty.
And this is Phoebe Zimmerman. Join us again next week for more
news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.
This Science Report is published courtesy