African leaders pledge to eradicate polio as disease spreads again - UN

13 January 2005
Children being immunized against polio

With African children now making up 85 per cent of the world's poliomyelitis cases after groups in Nigeria forced suspension of an inoculation campaign, African health ministers from eight countries pledged today to plan massive immunization campaigns against the paralyzing disease and to increase surveillance, the United Nations health agency said today.

Cases in Africa now number1,037, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Rotary International, which convened the meeting in Geneva.

Marking the first anniversary of the Geneva pledge to eradicate the disease from the world, the African ministers at the meeting said they committed "to further intensifying polio eradication activities with the goal of ending transmission by the end of 2005."

To implement their pledge they said they would conduct at least five rounds of national immunization campaigns for children in every part of their countries. This year's eradication strategy for Africa had called for immunization campaigns in 25 countries.

The Heads of State and government at the African Union (AU) summit later this month were expected to endorse the pledge.

The number of polio cases in Africa doubled since some groups in northern Nigeria claimed in August 2003 that the vaccine being used would render girls infertile.

Although the area resumed an anti-polio policy in July 2004, using vaccine from Indonesia, the virus was shown by genetic tests to have spread into countries with low immunization because of civil wars, such as Côte d'Ivoire and Sudan, and to their neighbours: Burkina Faso, Central African Republic and Chad.


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