Polio Vaccination Campaign Targeting 72M Children In 15 African Countries Announced; Ugandan Health Authorities Declare Polio Outbreak

The WHO on Tuesday announced a mass polio immunization campaign in 15 African countries targeting a total of 72 million children, Agence France-Presse reports. “Polio has spread again in recent years with cases imported from some of the four endemic nations in Asia and Africa, mainly Nigeria, in a setback to global attempts to eradicate the crippling and sometimes lethal disease,” the news service writes (10/26).

“A total of some 290,000 vaccinators have been mobilized to go door-to-door to deliver two drops of oral polio vaccine (OPV) to every child under five in areas considered at ‘highest risk’ of polio transmission,” states a press release issued by the WHO and other organizations involved in the campaign. The countries included in the vaccination drive are: Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Sudan (10/26).

“In Africa, we are seeing the essential government support that can make the difference between success and failure,” said WHO Africa Regional Director Luis Sambo, U.N. News Centre reports. “But much more remains to be done to fill the gaps if we are to protect the stunning gains made this year,” he added (10/26).

The $42.6 million campaign has received funding from the WHO, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the CDC, USAID, Rotary International, UNICEF and the governments of Germany and Japan, according to the Canadian Press.

On the same day of the announcement, Uganda – which was declared polio-free last year and will not be targeted in the new vaccination effort – said it was experiencing an outbreak of the disease, the news service reports. Ugandan Health Minister Stephen Malinga said a 2-year-old boy was diagnosed with polio last week and four other children in his area had also tested positive (Olukya, 10/26). “The ministry of health now fears that 48 districts bordering with Kenya are at risk or at worst, there may be already unreported cases especially in the northeastern part of the country which borders the Turkana region,” Xinhua reports (10/27).

To address the outbreak, the WHO and the health ministry announced plans to conduct vaccination campaigns in 48 districts of eastern, north-eastern and northern Uganda, New Vision writes (Mugisa, 10/26).

Nigeria is the only country in Africa where polio is endemic, and it has “slashed polio by 98% in the past year,” according to the press release. However over the past six months, 48 of Africa’s 58 total recorded cases of polio were detected in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which “now represent the greatest threat to polio in Africa,” the release states (10/26).

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