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WHO confirms Egypt ‘polio-free’

Egypt has been declared polio-free by the World Health Organisation (WHO), but routine immunisation will remain a national priority as part of an ongoing campaign

Egypt has been declared polio-free by the World Health Organisation (WHO), leaving India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria as the world’s only remaining countries yet to eradicate indigenous polio transmission.

In a ceremony attended by Egypt’s first lady, Mrs Suzanne Mubarak, Egyptian health minister Hatem Mostafa El-Gabaly hailed the “landmark” announcement as a vital achievement in the global campaign against polio. He said: ‘Polio has been endemic in our country for all of recorded history. The best tools of our age have finally defeated this enemy.”

David Heymann, who heads the WHO’s global campaign on polio, told journalists the announcement was a major victory in the fight for eradication. “The finish line is in sight,” he said.

Egypt’s last recorded case of polio was in 2004. Since the 1980s, Egypt’s Ministry of Health has headed a national immunisation campaign to vaccinate every child aged five or under. To date, more than 11 million children have received vaccination drops.

According to the WHO, the main challenge faced was the highly efficient polio transmission seen in the densely populated cities of the Nile Valley. The adoption of the ‘monovalent’ oral polio vaccine in 2005, designed to target polio type 1, helped combat the last strain of the disease.

UNICEF representative Erma Manocourt, who also attended the ceremony, praised the country for its efforts. “Polio eradication has been a national endeavour in this country,” she said. “Egypt has every reason to be proud of its contribution to the global campaign against this disease.”

Despite the announcement, routine immunisation will remain a national priority in Egypt, as recent experiences in
Yemen and Indonesia have shown that polio can be re-imported into polio-free countries. First lady Mrs Mubarak, who has launched a series of national immunisation days, will front the ongoing campaign.

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