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7.8 million Sudanese children targeted in UN-backed polio immunization campaign

7.8 million Sudanese children targeted in UN-backed polio immunization campaign

An estimated 7.8 million children across Sudan will be targeted in the next round of a United Nations-backed polio immunization campaign starting on Sunday, despite ongoing security concerns in the strife-torn country.

“The campaign against polio is vital to the ongoing development of Sudan, but also to global efforts to eradicate polio,” United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Representative Ted Chaiban said. “The commitment being shown by health officials, partner organizations and local volunteers is truly heartening.”

Led by the Health Ministries in both North and Southern Sudan, and backed by UNICEF, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and other partners, the National Immunization Days aim to ensure that Sudan remains polio-free in 2006, but organizers cautioned that success will depend upon guaranteed access for health workers.

Some 40,000 vaccinators will travel from house to house in every community in Africa’s largest country during the three-day campaign, administering oral polio vaccines to all children under five, and Vitamin A supplements to 4.9 million children aged six months to five years.

Vitamin A is known to increase resistance to disease and prevent blindness, critical in a country with the 49th highest under-5 mortality rate in the world. In Southern Sudan, vaccinators will also undertake guinea-worm surveillance.

Mr. Chaiban urged communities to ensure the safety of vaccinators in areas of the country still affected by fighting, saying that “safeguarding a child’s health rises above any political differences that may exist in communities.

“It is imperative that where fighting continues, vaccinators and monitors are guaranteed safe access, and parents are able to present their children for vaccination. We rely upon all those still involved in conflict in Sudan to provide those guarantees,” he added.

Earlier smaller campaigns in 2006 resulted in 1.3 million children being successfully vaccinated in Darfur, scene of three years of fighting between the Government, allied militias and rebels.

No polio cases have been reported anywhere in Sudan since June 2005; in 2004 Sudan was close to being declared polio-free. With many children living in areas that are hard to reach, and the risks of cross-border transmission growing due to population displacement, the campaigns are a critical addition to routine immunization efforts, especially as health infrastructures are still weak in many parts of the country.