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Polio's Last Stand

from Nature News

A hard-fought battle against the polio virus may be approaching its endgame. Last week, health officials laid out plans to eradicate the virus from its last redoubts, but warned that the effort may founder owing to a US$1-billion funding gap.

"We are truly at a tipping point in the programme right now," says Bruce Aylward, an assistant director-general at the World Health Organization, who is leading the eradication effort. Speaking at the 65th World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, he announced an Emergency Action Plan to step up vaccination efforts in the three countries that have never been able to stop the virus from spreading: Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The plan, which would boost global spending to $2.2 billion over the next two years, aims to stamp out new polio cases by the end of this year. Some experts believe it will take longer, but they agree that the push will eventually deliver victory to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), a $9-billion campaign that began in 1988, a time when an estimated 350,000 people succumbed to polio each year. The initiative, based in Geneva, made rapid gains in the Americas, Europe and parts of Asia, but since 2001, incidence rates have plateaued, with 1,000-2,000 people developing poliomyelitis each year worldwide.

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