A mass immunization campaign against polio spearheaded by United Nations agencies and their partners started today for 100 million children in 22 countries in the first drive this year to stop the resurgence of the disease, as reports came in of a new case in Ethiopia.
Polio transmission is usually low at this time of year and the next few months are key to the efforts by Governments, the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and major non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to stamp out the disease.
Among the countries joining the campaign are four whose campaigns had been set back by civil strife: Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Eritrea and Ethiopia.
“By reaching children cut off from the eradication effort by insecurity and the threat of violence, African leaders have a real opportunity to halt polio’s advance,” said Dr. Ezio Murzi of UNICEF.
In 2003 the leaders of three states in northern Nigeria interrupted their drive against the disease, expressing suspicions about the inoculation made in the West. UN Special Adviser on Africa Ibrahim Gambari persuaded them to use an inoculation made in Indonesia, but Nigeria now accounts for 60 per cent of the cases worldwide and, through genetic studies, the country has been found to be the source of polio’s spread as far away as to Saudi Arabia.
“Eradication in Africa requires not only reaching all children in the newly-infected areas, but most importantly immunizing every child in those countries which have never interrupted transmission – Nigeria and Niger. It is gratifying to note that both countries are fully committed to the polio eradication drive,” said Dr. Luis Sambo, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
Sudanese leaders were not only ensuring that children in the newly reconciled north and south were immunized, but had convened a meeting of representatives from nine neighbouring countries to coordinate immunization in border areas, WHO said.