By Cornelia Walther
GOMA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 23 November 2010 – DR Congo took a major step toward eradicating polio this month with the second round of a mass immunization campaign targeting children under the age of five in nine provinces.
|VIDEO: 28 October 2010 - UNICEF's Ndiaga Seck reports on the second round of a massive polio immunization campaign in DR Congo. Watch in RealPlayer|
“All children have the same right to be protected from polio,” said UNICEF Representative in DR Congo Pierrette Vu Thi. Failure to translate this right into reality today, she added, “will be expensive tomorrow, in terms of human lives and resources.”
The initiative in DR Congo is part of a synchronized mass immunization campaign covering 72 million children across the African continent. A total of 290,000 vaccinators and social mobilizers – including more than 71,000 in DR Congo – are delivering two drops of oral polio vaccine to every child under five in areas considered at highest risk of polio transmission in 16 countries.
|© UNICEF DR Congo/2010/Seck|
|Felicien Molima, head of the UNICEF office for North Kivu and Maniema Provinces, gives oral polio vaccine to a child during the immunization campaign in DR Congo.|
“A mother should have her child vaccinated if she loves them, to ensure they have good health,” declared a mother whose child was vaccinated in Goma, North Kivu Province.
Reaching every child
As of 18 November, 56 polio cases had been registered in DR Congo, including 47 cases in Kasai Occidental Province – the epicentre of the epidemic – as well as 6 in Bandundu and 3 in Katanga. Polio re-emerged in the country with 13 cases in 2006, followed by 41 cases in 2007, 5 in 2008 and 3 in 2009.
Among the major factors behind the re-emergence of polio in Kasai Occidental is the lack of full immunization coverage in remote, poor areas, and particularly among the poorest and most disadvantaged families.
|© UNICEF DR Congo/2010/Seck|
|Children wait for their polio vaccinations in Goma, located in North Kivu Province, DR Congo.|
To leave no child out, UNICEF and its partners advocated for the mass immunization campaign to be conducted even in areas controlled by armed groups, many of which are active in North Kivu. “So we managed to sensitize all those armed groups for a cease-fire, in order to vaccinate children," said North Kivu Provincial Health Minister Valerian Mbalu Twirandi.
The vaccination drive is funded by UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USAID, Rotary International and the Governments of Germany and Japan. Early next year, DR Congo will conduct additional polio immunization efforts as part of the synchronized campaign in West Africa.
“To achieve long-lasting results, high-quality immunization campaigns must be complemented by enhanced routine immunization and strong disease surveillance,” said Dr. Matthieu Kamwa, head of the World Health Organization in DR Congo. “Funding gaps must be covered to ensure that our efforts achieve their goals, by completing the next steps of the worldwide initiative for polio eradication."