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News Outlets Report On Polio Outbreaks In Central, East Africa

“Bad immunisation strategy has been blamed for an outbreak of polio, which has killed nearly 200 and is believed to have caused paralysis in more than 2,000 others across Angola, Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC),” the Mail & Guardian writes in a story examining the emergence of the disease in the three countries and efforts to control it.

“The polio detected in the DRC and Congo is a strong genetic match to the strain of the polio virus first detected in Angola in 2006 after it was imported from northern India,” the newspaper notes. “That was Angola’s first case of polio for three years, but the disease spread quickly and this year there have been more than 300” cases of acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) and at least four deaths. Since Nov. 22, there have been 169 reported polio deaths in the Congo. “Across the border in the DRC there have been 1,593 reports of AFP, 49 confirmed polio cases and several deaths,” according to the newspaper.

“If we had conducted high-quality campaigns that reached more than 90% of children, we would have been able to stop this,” said Sona Bari of the WHO’s Polio Eradication Initiative. “But in pockets of Angola, up until a few months ago, we were missing more than 20% of children,” according to Bari, who said UNICEF and other international agencies were providing assistance because of the scale of the problem and increased political engagement on the issue.

Koen Vanormelingen, the head of UNICEF in Angola, said the quality of immunization campaigns have improved in recent months. “The patrols are improving and more children are receiving the vaccine. We have been struck by how much demand there has been for immunisation from families. We’ve not seen any resistance,” he said.

The article also looks at the funding required to create a successful campaign. Brigette Toure, West and Southern Africa polio immunisation specialist for UNICEF, and Kimberly Thompson, a senior author of a study on polio immunization, published in the journal Vaccine, are also quoted (Redvers, 12/8).

In related news, Inter Press Service takes a closer look at the polio outbreak and other health problems in the DRC.

“Thousands of vaccinators have fanned out across 16 districts of the DRC in a mass immunisation campaign, part of a broader effort covering 72 million children across Africa. … [T]he [polio] outbreak does not exactly come as a surprise. At the start of the year, the United Nations Development Programme warned that in DRC, ‘illnesses otherwise eradicated such as trypanosomiasis, leprosy and plague had returned and that the numbers could rise by between 20 and 22 percent in the eastern provinces where there are still problems and armed conflicts if urgent measures are not taken,'” the news service writes.

The article describes how the country’s severe budget constraints are perpetuating the spread of polio and other diseases. “In July, the financial director of the DRC’s Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) told IPS that a shortfall in funding meant immunisation of children was failing. ‘Of the more or less $130 million needed to cover the vaccination needs of babies from zero to 11 months in 2010, the Congolese government has said it will not be able to contribute more than one percent,’ he said. ‘[In this period,] nine million infants were left exposed to serious illnesses like polio which can leave them disabled for life.'”

The article quotes a local nurse, an epidemiologist and DRC citizens to illustrate the different perspectives on the issue (Chaco, 12/8).

Second Round Of Polio Vaccinations Kicks Off In Kenya

The Kenyan government on Wednesday announced the second round of an oral polio vaccination campaign to launch on December 11 and that would aim to reach one million children under the age of 5, Capital News reports.

“The first round was administered last month after a polio outbreak was reported in Uganda’s Bugiri district which shares a common border with Busia district in Kenya. Public Health and Sanitation Director Shahnaaz Sharif explained that the campaign would only focus on 22 districts that were considered high risk in Western, Nyanza and Rift Valley provinces,” Capital News reports. A third round of the campaign is planned for the middle of January.

The estimated cost of the entire vaccination exercise is about $2.5 million (Wambui, 12/8). The health ministry is receiving support from the WHO, UNICEF and other partners to implement the campaign, according to the Kenya Broadcast Corporation.

Olivia Yambi, UNICEF’s representative in Kenya, said the vaccination would help control the disease in the country. “She added that UNICEF is working with the government in collaboration with USAID, the Rotary Club and the Kenya Red Cross,” the news service writes (12/8).

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