111m children to be vaccinated against polio in West, Central Africa

Lagos, Nigeria (PANA) - Some 111.1 million children below the age of five are to be vaccinated against polio in a synchronized campaign covering 20 countries in West and Central Africa starting on Friday, the organizers said in a joint statement obtained by PANA here Wednesday.

They said health ministries, UN agencies and communities are uniting with tens of thousands of volunteer immunizers over four days for the door-to-door campaign.

While Nigeria will conduct its round from 31 March to 3 April due to operational reasons, the campaign will be conducted 23-26 March in Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Central African Republic, Niger, Cameroon, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.

According to the statement, Nigeria, the only polio endemic country in Africa, aims to get two drops of the oral vaccine into the mouths of 57.7 million children. Nineteen other countries, which are at risk of re-infection, are stepping up efforts to reach nearly 53.3 million children.

“The upcoming campaign in West and Central Africa will aim to cover all children, immunized or not,  in order to boost their protection levels and deprive the virus of the fertile seedbed on which it depends for survival,” the World Health Organization Regional Director for Africa, Dr Luis Sambo, was quoted as saying.

“This exercise should bring us closer to reaching our goal of interrupting wild polio virus transmission in our region in 2012,” he said.

In his comments, the UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Mr. David Gressly, said: “Either we succeed in eradicating polio today or this initiative will falter tomorrow and polio will explode. We will then see millions of children being paralyzed by this disease.”

Also speaking on the exercise, Mr. Ambroise Tshimbalanga Kasongo, chair of Rotary International's African PolioPlus Committee, said that Rotary had
committed funds to help make these critical activities possible, and he called on other donors to stay the course by filling the current US$405 million funding
gap for 2012.

"This year's progress in India has proven what is possible when we focus on the task at hand," he said. "In Africa, the end of polio is in sight, but we still have hard work ahead. Failure is not an option."

The risk of importation of polio virus in West Africa persists given the endemic nature of transmission in Nigeria; the sub-optimal population immunity across the sub-region; the intensive cross-border population movements; and the resurgence of poliovirus type 3 in 2011 in Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, and Niger.

To reduce the risk and consequences of importation of poliovirus, Oral Polio Vaccination coverage must be sustained at more than 90% coverage for a number of years.

However, an assessment conducted by WHO in February 2012 shows routine immunization gaps in most West African countries, only five of which have attained or maintained over 90% coverage since 2008.  

That is why these upcoming immunization campaigns are so critical to further boost population immunity levels, the statement said  

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) is spearheaded by national governments, WHO, Rotary International, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF, and supported by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF).  

Since the GPEI was launched in 1988, the incidence of polio has been reduced by more than 99 percent.  

In 2011, 650 cases were reported worldwide, and only three countries - Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan - remain endemic.
-0- PANA SEG 21Mar2012

21 march 2012 10:43:05

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