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LONDON, June 20: An almost $1 billion shortfall in funding for the fight against polio is putting global efforts to eradicate the crippling viral disease in jeopardy, global health experts said on Wednesday.

In a report released 10 years after Europe was declared polio-free, the independent monitoring board of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) said there is now “a unique window of opportunity to stamp out polio for good” with global case numbers at their lowest levels since records began.

“But it will not happen if the programme remains so desperately under-financed,” Liam Donaldson, the independent board’s chairman, told reporters.

A disease that until the 1950s crippled thousands of people every year in rich nations, polio is a virus that attacks the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis within hours of infection.

It remains endemic in three countries — Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria — after India in January became the latest country to become polio-free, after going a full year without registering a new case.

Polio often spreads in areas with poor sanitation — a factor that has helped it keeps a grip on those endemic countries for many decades — and children under five are the most vulnerable.

The disease can be halted, as it was in Europe, with comprehensive, population-wide vaccination programmes.—Reuters