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Indonesia Fights Polio Epidemic By Starting Vaccination Campaign<P>By Celia W. Dugger THE NEW YORK TIMES <P>

Indonesia Fights Polio Epidemic
By Starting Vaccination Campaign

By Celia W. Dugger

In the midst of a huge global push to eradicate polio after 17 years of trying, Indonesia is confronting a polio epidemic that is the largest it has ever recorded. It will mobilize 750,000 workers and volunteers Tuesday and Wednesday to immunize 24 million children across a vast archipelago of more than 6,000 islands.

World Health Organization officials hope the country can halt the spread of the crippling virus from Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most-populous nation, to a broad swath of Asian countries that include the Philippines, Malaysia and China. Indonesia will conduct two more mass immunization campaigns, in September and November.

Indonesia itself had been free of polio since 1995 until this March, when a 20-month-old boy was paralyzed by the virus. Since then, 225 children have been stricken. Indonesia now counts itself as one of the unfortunate 17 countries that have been re-infected with polio since mid-2003 by polio virus traceable to Nigeria.

In a disastrous setback to the worldwide polio eradication initiative, several Muslim-dominated states in northern Nigeria stopped giving polio drops for about a year beginning in mid-2003 because of rumors that the vaccine was a Western-inspired plot to sterilize Muslim girls or that it was HIV-infected.

As Nigerians traveled to neighboring countries, the virus spread across Africa. Indonesia’s outbreak came from Nigeria via Sudan, a genetic analysis of the virus shows.

Indonesia is now the only country with an expanding epidemic, said Dr. David Heymann, representative for polio eradication at the WHO. As in Nigeria, alarming rumors increased the country’s vulnerability. The vaccine was erroneously blamed for the deaths of four children. An independent commission has since found that they died of other causes.