United Nations agencies and their partners today launched a polio immunization campaign targeting 85 million children under the age of five in 19 countries across West and Central Africa.
“From the top leadership to local district administrators in every country, we are each accountable to the African child – to vaccinate every child and achieve high coverage,” said Luis Gomes Sambo, Regional Director for Africa of the World Health Organization (WHO), noting the cross-border cooperation and Africa's determination to curb the disease.
According to WHO, some 400,000 volunteers and health workers will travel door to door – working up to 12 hours per day on foot, bicycles, in cars or boats – to administer two drops of the oral polio vaccine (OPV) to every child in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal and Sierra Leone. These are the countries considered to have active outbreaks of polio, meaning they had cases within the last six months.
Volunteers will also fan out across Nigeria, where the epidemic first started in 2008, Ghana, Benin, Central African Republic (CAR), Gambia, Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau.
The vaccination campaign – funded by the service organization Rotary International – will extend to Niger, Togo and Côte d'Ivoire, although at a later date due to political transitions or elections within those countries.
WHO, working with the UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI), vaccinated some 6 million children in that country in December 2009, but was unable to curb the disease.
The agency said that previous efforts to halt the 2008 outbreak did not work because not all children were able to be vaccinated. In addition, after years without polio cases, some countries lacked the necessary skills and experience to respond adequately to the outbreak.
New approaches being introduced this year include standardized, independent monitoring of whether children have been reached, better training for vaccinators to carry out the plans fully and appropriate deployment of experienced staff, WHO said.
“With better coverage that leaves no child unvaccinated, these campaigns can succeed in making West and Central Africa polio-free,” said Gianfranco Rotigliano, Regional Director for West and Central Africa for the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).
The vaccination campaign will be repeated on 24 April in the same 19 countries.