An immunization campaign to vaccinate 60 million children under five years old in 16 West African countries is underway as part of a global campaign to eradicate polio, the virus that cripples children, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said today.
Similar immunization campaigns over the past two years have driven the number of polio-endemic countries in Africa down from 20 in 1999 to an all-time low of three countries this year - Nigeria, with 95 per cent of all cases in Africa, Niger and Somalia, UNICEF said.
UNICEF attributed the success to a broad partnership called the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, under which the world's largest vaccine manufacturer, Aventis Pasteur, last week donated 30 million doses of oral polio vaccine.
Started in 1988, the Initiative has reduced poliovirus transmission from 350,000 cases in 125 countries to a handful in 10 countries at the beginning of 2002. "Of these just three - India, Nigeria and Pakistan - have had continued high-intensity transmission, while the remaining seven - Afghanistan, Angola, Egypt, Ethiopia, Niger, Somalia and Sudan - each have fewer than eight cases to date in 2002," UNICEF said.
The final challenge to stopping the transmission of polio in Africa is to vaccinate all children, particularly those in the conflict areas around Mogadishu, in eastern Angola, and all children under five in Nigeria.
"We are so close to beating this crippling disease in Africa and worldwide, but we are not there yet," UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said. "We have to stay focused and committed and encourage support from all corners - from endemic countries, donor countries and the health industry - so all children can be immunized."