Africa united to tackle polio
Campaign aims to leave no child unvaccinated in 19 countries
More than 85 million children under five years old will be immunized against polio in 19 countries across west and central Africa in a massive example of cross-border cooperation aimed at stopping a year-long polio epidemic.
Over 400 000 volunteers and health workers will take part in the campaign, which is part of an ongoing response to the epidemic that first spread from polio-endemic Nigeria to its polio-free neighbours in 2008 and is still paralysing children in west and central Africa. Nine countries – Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal and Sierra Leone – are considered to have active outbreaks of polio (i.e. cases within the last six months). The campaign kicks off on March 6 in these countries as well as Nigeria, Ghana, Benin, Central African Republic, Gambia, Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau. Niger, Togo and Cote d’Ivoire will join at a later date due to political transitions or elections.
This complex logistical operation is largely made possible by US$ 30 million in extraordinary funding released by Rotary International, a major partner in the global effort to stop polio.
WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Luis Gomes Sambo, said the synchronized campaign showed Africa’s determination to be free of polio. “From the top leadership to local district administrators in every country,” he said, “we are each accountable to the African child – to vaccinate every child and achieve high coverage.”
A previous round of campaigns in 2009 did not stop the outbreak completely, as not enough children were vaccinated to stop polio transmission. After years with no 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.
UNICEF’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Dr Gianfranco Rotigliano noted: “With better coverage that leaves no child unvaccinated, these campaigns can succeed in making West and Central Africa polio-free.”