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Anti-polio campaign succeeding in Central Africa despite challenges: WHO

Anti-polio campaign succeeding in Central Africa despite challenges: WHO

Tens of thousands of vaccination teams have fanned across Central Africa, going door-to-door to protect millions of children against polio in the first-ever coordinated immunization campaign in the conflict-affected region, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) said today.

During several days in July, August and September, the massive effort will result in the vaccination of 16 million children in Angola, Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Gabon. The "synchronized" National Immunization Days (NIDs) campaign is a major step in the global effort to eradicate the crippling disease, as Angola and the DRC are considered two of the few remaining bastions of the wild poliovirus.

According to WHO, results from the first round of synchronized NIDs from 5 to 9 July were "encouraging," with over 15 million children under five vaccinated. However, despite major efforts by health authorities and vaccination teams, full coverage was not possible in some areas in view of ongoing conflict. In the DRC's Equateur province, five vaccinators were arrested and later released. In the same province, a volunteer who was mobilizing the population for the campaign was killed.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has appealed for calm during the three vaccination periods, urging "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."

For the first time during this round, from 9 to 13 August, health workers will be administering vitamin A along with the polio vaccine. This life-saving micronutrient reduces childhood mortality and morbidity by 23 per cent. In 2000, the administration of vitamin A prevented about 240,000 childhood deaths worldwide.

During the third vaccination period from 13 to 17 September, US National Basketball Association all-star Dikembe Mutombo will travel to the DRC to help immunize children in his home country and raise the project's visibility.

Full results of the three rounds of synchronized National Immunization Days will be available in early October 2001, WHO said.