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Guardian Examines Difficulty Of Delivering Polio Vaccines In War-Torn Parts Of Africa, Like DRC

UNICEF is calling for an immediate ceasefire in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) so that polio vaccinators can access millions of children in an effort to beat back the re-emergence of the disease in several African nations, the Guardian reports. “We are calling on all parties to the conflict to respect the vaccination days and cease fighting,” said Pierrette Vu Thi, UNICEF’s representative in the DRC. “All children have the same right to health,” Vu Thi said.

“The aggressive return of the contagious paralysing virus comes just five years after it was declared eradicated in most of the world. It marks a major setback in the race to make polio only the third disease, after smallpox and the cattle virus rinderpest, to be eradicated,” the publication writes. A vaccination campaign last month aimed to reach 72 million children in 15 African countries, but “vaccination teams have struggled to reach children in war zones, such as eastern DRC, where government forces, the Rwandan army and militias are fighting,” according to the Guardian.

Over the past six months, up to 800 suspected cases of polio have been identified in 12 African countries, according to Rotary International. The WHO puts the number of confirmed polio cases at 139. “Determining numbers is complex,” said WHO spokesperson Rod Curtis. “Multiple factors, such as the Republic of Congo not having seen polio for 10 years, or adults dying before being able to provide stool samples, mean that a significant number of early cases in the outbreak did not provide diagnostic specimens,” he said.

“As soon as we have one case of polio, we consider that we are dealing with an epidemic,” said Andre Kasogo, a UNICEF immunisation officer in the DRC. “Polio is highly contagious. One person can pass the virus to 200 others and each of those can infect 200 people,” Kasogo said. He also discussed why the disease might have returned to the DRC. “If polio has returned, it is firstly because of the failure of our health system. While I was at the ministry [of health] we managed to set up a line of credit for childhood vaccination but because of fears of corruption and inefficiency we never succeeded in getting the civil servants to disburse the money,” he said. Kasogo also noted the re-emergence of polio in Angola, which borders the DRC. “There have been recent, large-scale population movements from our neighbour Angola, which is infected,” he said (Smith, 12/5).

The DRC has launched a second round of polio immunizations, which has been organized by the government of the DRC and partners, including the WHO, UNICEF and others, PANA/Afrique en ligne reports (12/3).

Health Minister Georges Moyen “said the first round of the campaign in September had been a success, reaching 105 percent of targeted people. ‘This rate is explained by the fact that we aimed to vaccinate 4,135,000 people and in the end it was 4,300,000 who were vaccinated,’ he said,” Agence-France Presse reports. The final round of the vaccination campaign is scheduled for the end of December. According to UNICEF, the DRC has received 18 million doses of the polio vaccine (12/4).

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