UN agencies help Sudan turn back polio epidemic

25 May 2005
Children being immunized against polio

Continuing the all-out effort to eradicate polio from Sudan, the country's Ministry of Health, backed by United Nations agencies and other organizations, today launched a three-day campaign to immunize all children under 5.

This fourth round of Sudan's National Immunization Days in 2005 hopes to reach those children living in the poorest communities or those cut off by conflict. These children are the key to stopping the spread of the disease, according to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), which, along with the UN World Health Organizations (WHO), is among the programme's international partner agencies.

There are now 150 confirmed cases of polio in Sudan. The latest two cases were announced by the Ministry of Health on 15 May, and are in the states of Khartoum and West Kordofan, raising to 24 the total number of cases reported this year.

UNICEF said the overall outlook across affected African and Arab States is encouraging, with good results emerging from this year's previous anti-polio campaigns. None of the countries where transmission re-emerged in 2004 have recorded any cases so far this year, and cases are also falling dramatically in Nigeria.

But Sudan is the exception. Eighteen of the 26 states of Africa's largest country now have confirmed cases of polio since the beginning of the outbreak in May 2004. A three-year period of polio-free status – from 2001 to 2004 – led authorities and health agencies to focus limited global resources on other countries. Sudan discontinued nationwide polio campaigns after 2002, and only sub-national immunization campaigns have been conducted over the past two years to reach border districts and low routine coverage areas.

Authorities believe that these new cases of polio were introduced into the country by cross-border movements of infected individuals carrying the virus into Sudan and exposing unvaccinated children. The long war between the north and the south and now in the Darfur region of western Sudan have prevented access to basic health services for many, leaving unvaccinated children very vulnerable to this menacing virus, UNICEF said.

"With children already beginning to return with their families to the south from the north and from other countries, the risk of infection with the polio virus is greater than ever," said Joanna Van Gerpen, UNICEF Representative in Sudan. "We must ensure that the positive trend of people returning to their home areas is not offset by increased disease rates due to lack of immunization."


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