Massive polio immunisation effort underway in Africa
Fifteen countries across Africa are conducting a massive synchronised operation to eliminate polio by immunising some 72 million children by this weekend. Some 290,000 vaccinators have been mobilised to treat every child under five in areas considered at the highest risk of polio transmission.
The exercise follows a previous drive in 2009 and in March 2010, which followed the spread of the disease from Nigeria. Then, 24 countries across west and central Africa and in the Horn of Africa were affected.
Renewed cases of polio have been reported in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and Mali - the first since 2001. There's also been a case reported in Uganda, which had been polio-free for more than a year.
Melissa Corkum of UNICEF told RFI that the fifteen countries chosen had one common characteristic.
“The countries that are participating include those countries which have had polio outbreaks or where polio has been re-established because campaigns and routine immunisation haven’t been sufficient to stop an outbreak.”
Nigeria, along with Afghanistan, India and Pakistan, is one of four countries in the world where polio is endemic. But encouraged by the progress made there, Corkum says she’s confident that the disease can be eradicated completely from the African continent.
“We’ve gone from hundreds of cases last year to only a handful this year in 2010,” she says. “Although we would have liked to have seen that no children are being affected, we are seeing that the end is in sight.
"But again we need to make sure we maintain vigilance and the political commitment to ensure children are reached during the campaigns and importantly through routine immunisation.”