WHO PRAISES ZERO POLIO CASES IN PAPUA NEW GUINEA

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (September 21, 1998 - The National/Map)---Intensive poliomyelitis eradication efforts in the Western Pacific Region have resulted in zero polio cases reported in 1998, paving the way for certification of polio eradication in the region by the end of 2000. Papua New Guinea, which is in the region, also reported no cases of poliomyelitis.

The WHO office here confirmed last week that they were happy with the current results. Country representative Dr. Paul Chan told The National that they were hoping to certify PNG polio free in the year 2000.

In Manila, Dr. S. T. Han, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, congratulated member states on their extraordinary efforts in achieving this outcome and, at the same time, emphasized the need for continued vigilance through strong surveillance and immunization activities.

Reporting to the forty-ninth session of the regional committee for the Western Pacific, WHO's governing body in the region, he noted that this was the first time since records have been kept that member states have reported zero cases.

This is particularly significant for recently endemic countries that have been reporting cases of poliomyelitis.

The regional committee met in Manila from Sept 14 to 18 to review and evaluate WHO's program activities in the region.

There were only nine cases of poliomyelitis in the region in 1997, with the onset of illness of the last case being March 19, 1997.

Since that date, under conditions of high quality surveillance, which included the investigation of over 7,000 cases of acute flaccid paralysis throughout the region, not a single case of polio has been reported.

WHO has been collaborating with member states in the polio eradication initiative, which aims to rid the world of polio by 2000. The focus of these efforts has been on eight priority countries of the region, which are Cambodia, China, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

''The dramatic decline in polio from over 6,000 cases in 1990 to zero in 1998 was a tribute to the commitment of the countries concerned.

''It has been largely due to supplementary immunization with polio vaccine for children under five years of age, particularly through National Immunization Days,'' Dr. Han said.

A total of 26 National Immunization Days have been carried out in seven countries since 1992, with more intense efforts being made in the last two years.

Achieving zero polio cases in 1998 opens the way for formal certification of polio eradication in the region at the end of the year 2000, after three years free of indigenous poliomyelitis.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

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