WHO Asks Islamic Nations to Aid Polio Fight

The U.N. health agency on Saturday urged wealthy Islamic countries to contribute more to the global campaign to eradicate polio (search), warning that lack of funds could endanger efforts to wipe out the crippling disease by the end of this year.

The World Health Organization (search) campaign to fight polio has cost $4 billion so far, but states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference have contributed just $3 million, even though recent outbreaks of polio have occurred mostly in Islamic countries, said spokeswoman Linda Muller.

"The time to act is now, we can't afford to wait," Muller told The Associated Press. "That's critical at this point of the initiative, everyone pulling together."

WHO said it is looking to Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to give more money to its polio eradication campaign. None of those countries has contributed funds.

A meeting of foreign ministers of the 57-nations Islamic conference in June will be an opportunity to increase funding for the polio eradication campaign, Muller said.

WHO said it needs $50 million by July to fight polio this year. For 2006, the health agency has a funding shortfall of $200 million.

Last year, some 1,267 people were infected in the world — with 792 of those in Nigeria. The current total of new cases in 2005 stands at 124, according to WHO, with Nigeria, Sudan and Yemen the worst-affected countries.

When WHO launched its anti-polio campaign in 1988, the worldwide case count was more than 350,000 annually.

Indonesia and Yemen — both predominantly Muslim countries — are the most recent of previously polio-free states that have reported new cases since 2003.