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Author Biography: Sebastião Salgado was born in Brazil and currently resides in Paris with his family. He is among the best-known documentary photographers working today.
That the virus still exists at all is itself an indictment, for this is a disease that is completely preventable. Protecting a child from polio is as easy as shielding that child from the rain: it means opening the medical equivalent of an umbrella in this case, an easily administered vaccine developed nearly a half-century ago. Nor is there any mystery about how to do away with polio forever. All it requires is ensuring that all children up to 5 years old receive the recommended doses of oral polio vaccine every year and that all cases of paralysis are investigated fully until we can certify that there is no more polio.
The real heroes of this campaign against polio are the health Workers-most of them unpaid volunteers-who combine ingenuity with courage and grit to deliver the perishable polio vaccine and see that it is properly administered. Their work is fraught with dangers, ranging from snakebites to gunfire. In some conflict zones, warring factions have been persuaded to put down their weapons long enough to allow children to be immunized. But even where there have been no "days of tranquillity," as these mercy truces are called, polio-eradication workers have gone about their appointed rounds anyway-and some have been killed in the process.
Their sacrifice has not been in vain. By 2002, there were only 200 new cases of polio induced paralysis in all of Africa. And with the worrying exceptions of India, Nigeria and Egypt, the number of worldwide cases of polio has continued to decline, while the countries classified as polio-endemic have dropped to seven, the fewest ever.
This is an achievement of historic proportions. Yet the eradication of polio by the internationally agreed upon target date of 2005 is by no means assured. It depends on securing the resources still needed to carry out immunization; on the readiness of all parties in armed conflict to ensure safe access to children at risk; and on the effectiveness of the continuing effort to educate families about the importance of immunization.
Until we reach our goal, the United Nations will continue to play its full part in the struggle against this disease. The End of Polio is a beautiful tribute to that struggle, and to the millions of dedicated people who, I am confident, will help us get there, thus making the world a better, safer place for every child.
Excerpted from The End of Polio by Sebastião Salgado Copyright ©2003 by The United Nations. Excerpted by permission.
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