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Annan urges support for massive anti-polio drive in central Africa

Annan urges support for massive anti-polio drive in central Africa

Lauding the start of a massive polio immunization campaign in conflict-affected countries of central Africa, Secretary-General Kofi Annan today urged officials and fighters alike there to facilitate the life-saving effort.

In a statement released through his spokesman, the Secretary-General hailed the "extraordinary effort" started on Thursday to immunize over 15 million children against polio in Angola, the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Gabon during synchronized National Immunization Days.

"I urge all leaders in these countries and all warring parties to respect the National Immunization Days as 'days of tranquillity' and to ensure the safe passage of health workers and volunteers in their efforts to reach all children with polio vaccine over the coming week, and again in August and September of this year," the statement said.

Pointing out that polio is now present in less than 20 countries worldwide, the Secretary-General stressed that all children must receive the polio vaccine today, "if we are to deliver the promise of a polio-free world tomorrow."

The campaign comes as a result of an unprecedented alliance that involves close coordination among the four countries. It is part of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative being spearheaded by two UN agencies - the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) - along with Rotary International and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Polio, a highly infectious disease, mainly affects children under three years of age. One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis, while between 5 and 10 per cent of those infected with polio die when their breathing muscles are paralyzed.