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Driving Polio From India

New Delhi--As part of a massive attempt to eradicate polio from a region, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) plan tomorrow to vaccinate 125 million children across the Indian subcontinent.

The two health organizations have enjoyed great success in their campaign to rid the world of polio by 2000. In 1995, WHO recorded only 6179 cases worldwide, down 82% from 1988. In another sign of progress, the number declined by 91% during this period in the WHO's Eastern Africa Epidemiological Block (Burundi, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia), according to a report in today's issue of the CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. "Eradication of polio is a victory that is staring us in the face," says the CDC's Walter Orenstein.

The last holdout may be the Indian subcontinent, which last year recorded about half the world's cases. About a year ago, the CDC and WHO immunized some 150 million children over 2 days, and now the organizations are reunited for a campaign that CDC director David Satcher calls the "single largest ever in the world." CDC gave $4.3 million to WHO's Southeast Asia office to buy and oversee distribution of the oral polio vaccine. CDC will also help the region beef up its polio surveillance network.