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Former Soviet republics polio free

The international fight against the paralysing disease polio, led by the World Health Organisation (WHO) is being won in the five Central Asia countries, though more work needs to be done in neighbouring Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"Afghanistan is far ahead than Pakistan," Lori Hieber-Giradet, WHO spokeswoman in Kabul, told IRIN. "We have two confirmed cases of polio in the country; one is in Helmand and the other in the Nangahar province," she added.

WHO officials told IRIN that the five Central Asian countries - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan -were certified polio-free by the world health body last week. "Its a major achievement," a WHO official told IRIN from Kyrgyzstan. For certification a country must confirm that there had been no polio case in three consecutive years.

Batyr Berdyklychev, WHO official in neighbouring Turkmenistan, told IRIN from the capital Ashgabat that the polio eradication programme was started in the country in 1994 and the last two cases of the disease were reported in 1996.

The WHO has been carrying out these programmes all around the world with the help of local health authorities and UNICEF with the aim of eradicating the disease globally by 2005.

However, progress in Pakistan is comparatively slow, at least 22 cases of polio have been reported. The deadline to end polio in the South Asian country is December 2002.

Health workers said there was a need to educate Pakistani villagers about the need to immunise children. Last year several health teams were stopped by local clergy from carrying out immunisation. The Muslim clergy thought the teams were promoting contraception.

Hieber-Giradet said the target to end polio in Afghanistan was December 2002 and the WHO was hopeful that the deadline would be met. "We will carry out two more campaigns in the country before December immunising six million children," she noted.

Polio, or Poliomyelitis, is a highly infectious viral disease. It invades the nervous system, and can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours. The virus enters the body through the mouth and multiplies in the intestine. Initial symptoms are fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness in the neck and pain in the limbs.

According to WHO, one in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis, usually in the legs. Amongst those paralysed, five to 10 percent die when their breathing muscles become immobilised. The disease has no cure, it can only be prevented by a vaccine, given multiple times.

WHO officials say that polio cases decreased by 99.8 percent to 600 in 2001 from an estimated 350,000 cases in 1988, when the global programme was launched.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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