New WHO Chief Pledges to Make Polio Eradication a Priority

Newly installed World Health Organization director-general Jong-wook Lee pledged to step up efforts to eradicate polio by 2005, but the WHO might not have the funds to follow up on Lee’s pledge.

In a July press release, Lee said,

Polio eradication is a top priority. I want to see this disease gone once and for all. We have eliminated it from almost every country in the world. Now is the time to boost our action and resolve, and wipe it out everywhere. I am immediately upgrading WHOÂ’s capacity to support India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Egypt in their efforts to immunize every child against polio.”

Lee appointed SARS expert David Heymann to head up WHO’s polio eradication efforts who noted the dangers of not eradicating polio as soon as possible,

Just as with SARS, polio knows no boundaries. In January, a child was paralyzed by polio in Lebanon for the first time in ten years. That virus travelled from India. Unless we stop transmission in the remaining polio-endemic countries, polio will spread to other countries and paralyze children, potentially reversing the gains already made.

But the WHO is also begging for money, claiming that it needs an additional $210 million for polio eradication efforts or it might have to scale back its efforts to fight the disease.

In 2002, there were less than 2,000 reported cases of polio worldwide and the disease is only present in seven countries. Lee argues it would be well worth the money to eradicate the disease worldwide once and for all.


WHO faces $210M shortfall in polio fight. Jonathan Fowler, Associated Press, July 29, 2003.

WHO steps up polio fight. The BBC, July 29, 2003.

New WHO Director-General steps up global polio eradication effort, as polio threatens other countries. Press Release, World Health Organization, July 29, 2003.

World Health Organization seeks eradication of polio by 2005. Lawrence K. Altman, New York Times, July 29, 2003.

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