By Jill Moss

This is the VOA Special English DEVELOPMENT REPORT.

Since Nineteen-Eighty-Eight, the number of new polio infections around the world has dropped by ninety-nine percent. A United Nations program called the Global Polio Eradication Initiative is responsible for this drop in world polio cases.

The program was launched thirteen years ago. At that time, there were more than three-hundred-fifty-thousand cases of polio around the world. By the end of last year, officials say fewer than three-thousand-five-hundred cases were recorded. Polio is now found in only about twenty countries, mainly in South Asia and parts of Africa.

Polio is an infectious disease caused by a virus. It can affect people at any age. But polio usually affects children under age three.The virus enters through the mouth and then grows inside the throat and intestines. Signs of polio include a high temperature, stomach sickness, and pain in the head and neck.

Once the poliovirus becomes established in the intestines, it can spread to the blood and nervous system. As a result, victims of polio often become paralyzed. They lose the ability to move. This paralysis is almost always permanent. In very serious cases, the paralysis can lead to death because victims are not able to breathe.

There is no cure for polio, so the best treatment is prevention.A few drops of a powerful vaccine medicine will protect a child for life. The vaccine must be given over several years to be fully effective.

Carol Bellamy is the head of the United Nations children's organization, UNICEF. She says the success of the U-N polio campaign depends on how quickly children can be vaccinated. For example, last August polio spread through the small West African island nation of Cape Verde.Seventeen children died from the disease. Forty-four others were paralyzed before health workers could control the disease.

Last year alone, medical workers vaccinated five-hundred-fifty-million children under age five in eighty-two countries. Workers will begin vaccination campaigns in Angola and Congo this year. The goal of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative is to completely end the disease around the world by Two-Thousand-Five. Officials estimate this will cost about one-thousand-million dollars.

This VOA Special English DEVELOPMENT REPORT was written by Jill Moss.

Voice of America Special English