A United Nations-backed polio immunization campaign targeting three million children and adults in Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Angola will begin on Friday in response to a recent outbreak.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a joint news release that this is the first vaccination response to the polio outbreak confirmed on 4 November in the Republic of Congo.
As of 9 November, a total of 226 cases of acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) with an unusually high mortality rate of 97 deaths have been recorded. To date, four of the AFP cases have been confirmed as polio.
Most of the cases have involved young adults aged between 15 and 29, the agencies noted, adding that this shows that populations are at risk because they have not been exposed to a full immunization.
The vaccination drive being launched tomorrow aims to raise the general level of immunity to stop the spread of polio, a contagious viral disease which causes paralysis. The disease has been eradicated in all but four countries – Pakistan, India, Nigeria and Afghanistan.
“Every man, every woman, every child will be immunized irrespective of their past immunization status,” says WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Luis Sambo. “This way we can be assured that everybody is reached, including young adults, whose immunity may be low.”
The campaign will take place in the coastal port city of Pointe Noire and in the Department of Kouilou in the Republic of Congo, 16 districts in the neighbouring province in DRC, and over the border in Angola.
UNICEF’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Dr. Gianfranco Rotigliano stressed the need to halt this fast-moving outbreak.
“The overriding priority is to vaccinate all people to prevent more cases and deaths as quickly as possible. We are at a critical juncture and stopping polio in Africa requires our absolute commitment.”
To date, health partners including WHO, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF, have secured some $4.8 million, 1.7 million doses of oral polio vaccines (OPV), and deployed a multidisciplinary team of experts to support investigation of the outbreak, field activities and operational costs. Another 5 million doses of OPV from Denmark should arrive in Congo on 12 November.
There are plans to cover the rest of the population of the Republic of Congo from 18 to 22 November, followed by two more nationwide rounds in December. Parts of DRC and Angola will also be covered during these rounds.