Major campaign against polio set to begin in central Africa: UN agencies

Major campaign against polio set to begin in central Africa: UN agencies

In a synchronized cross-border effort that aims to reach children in war-affected areas, a massive polio immunization campaign is set to begin in four key central African countries, two United Nations agencies announced today.

For the first time, Angola, the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Gabon will be coordinating their efforts to reach all children under five - an estimated 16 million people - with oral polio vaccine, according to a joint statement issued by the lead agencies behind the effort, the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Rotary International and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"This extraordinary undertaking will bring the world another step closer to eradication of polio," the statement said.

According to the agencies, thousands of health teams will set up special vaccination points in border regions, refugee camps and traditionally inaccessible regions. The efforts are specifically focused on children who have never before been vaccinated against polio in a region that remains one of the last reservoirs of the crippling virus.

The initiative is part of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, which aims to stop transmission of the wild poliovirus and certify the world polio-free by the end of 2005. When the Initiative was launched in 1988, more than 350,000 children were stricken by polio every year. That number has been reduced by 99 per cent, with fewer than 3,500 cases reported in 2000.

The official launch of the eradication effort will be held in Kinshasa, DRC, on 5 July. National Immunization Days - also known as NIDs - will be held throughout the region on 6-9 July.