Polio case in Côte d’Ivoire could signal re-infection from Nigeria, UN reports

25 February 2004

As the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) today confirmed that a new case of paralytic poliomyelitis has been reported in Côte d’Ivoire, experts are probing whether that incident is linked to outbreaks in other countries stemming from the suspension of immunization campaigns in the Nigerian state of Kano in August.

Until now, Côte d’Ivoire had not reported any polio cases since July 2000. If the link to recent regional outbreaks is confirmed, Côte d’Ivoire would become the eighth previously polio-free country in west and central Africa to become re-infected due to spreading type 1 poliovirus from northern Nigeria, according to WHO.

Nigeria was forced to suspend polio immunizations in key northern states because of unfounded rumours that the vaccination was unsafe for girls and young women. The agency is stressing that these concerns are without foundation.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) today issued a strong call on Nigeria to protect its children against the virus. The agency said that denying the vaccine to children in Kano state has created a channel for the disease's spread.

"It is unforgivable to allow still more children to be paralyzed because of further delay and baseless rumours," UNICEF chief Carol Bellamy said, calling on the authorities to "immediately re-join the polio eradication effort, which promises to be one of Africa's greatest success stories in public health."

"Nigerian leaders must take this opportunity now, or answer to their children," she added.

A total of 45 cases linked to northern Nigeria have been confirmed in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Ghana and Togo.

In response, UN agencies have launched a massive, synchronized polio immunization campaign in 10 countries across west and central Africa, including Côte d’Ivoire. If high coverage is achieved during this campaign, it could limit the consequences and minimize the risk of further spread of the virus, WHO said.