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Angola, 4 August 2010: Country launches nation-wide polio immunization campaign

UNICEF & WHO call for urgent efforts to stop the spread of polio

LUANDA, 4 August 2010 - In anticipation of Angola’s upcoming polio immunization campaign from 6-8 August, UNICEF and WHO call for the full engagement of all sectors of government as well as communities throughout the country to ensure that all 5.6 million children under five years old are reached in the most critical polio campaign this year.

As part of the Government’s emergency plan to put an end to polio in 2010, Angola will launch a national polio immunization campaign, to urgently protect the country's children from life-long paralysis.  The campaign comes hot on the heels of the World Health Organization (WHO) issuing a stark report warning of the risk of international spread, given the high number of cases being reported in Angola this year. 

Since the beginning of this year, the Ministry of Health has reported 19 cases of wild poliovirus in Angola. Six provinces - Luanda, Bengo, Huambo, Bie, Lunda Norte as well as Lunda Sul are affected, with 11 cases from North Lunda alone. Polio cases originating in Angola have also spread across the border to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Global experts have expressed concern about further spread in the region and the high cost of conducting emergency response campaigns. 

‘Polio virus can travel from village to village and country to country, through un-immunized children. Low rates of routine immunization and lack of adequate water and sanitation facilities across Angola and Africa make children particularly vulnerable to polio and other infectious diseases, said UNICEF’s Country Representative, Dr. Koenraad Vanormelingen.

Angola accounts for about 25 per cent of the polio cases in Africa this year and it could well become a reservoir spreading polio to neighbouring countries. The upcoming polio immunization days provide a real opportunity for the country to reverse this situation. Millions of children are at risk of life-long paralysis, and every child under five years old must be reached with oral polio vaccine during the three-day campaign.

Dr. Rui Gama Vaz, Acting Representative of WHO in Angola stressed the unique opportunity to rid the country of this disease: 'The polio eradication strategy works. As we have seen across the globe, we need to ensure that vaccinators reach every child both during campaigns and through strong routine immunization. This strategy worked to stop polio back in 2004 in Angola.’

Recognizing that a business as usual approach will not stop polio which has continued to cripple children over the past year; Angola’s leaders are taking strong measures to respond to the epidemic. Pooling financial support from multiple sources, a total of US$9.3 million has been committed to an emergency plan which includes nationwide campaigns and support to routine immunization in 32 key municipalities to increase coverage to at least 90 per cent.

Angola’s emergency plan is backed by a strong sense of political urgency to stop transmission. Public-private partnerships are being pursued to get all hands on deck for this important national effort. Social mobilization is being boosted, and the focus of implementation has moved beyond campaigns to look at routine immunization, to ensure that every child is reached in a sustainable manner against polio and other vaccine preventable diseases.

UNICEF and WHO reiterate their joint commitment to supporting the Government of Angola’s plan to stop polio in 2010. Tens of thousands of volunteers, health workers, parents, social activists, soldiers as well as community, religious and traditional leaders will systematically go house-to-house and village-to-village across the country, to hand-deliver polio vaccine to every child under the age of five.  

'Eradicating polio in Angola is possible, said Dr. Koenraad Vanormelingen, of UNICEF Angola. ‘Jointly, we’ve done it elsewhere and we can do it in this country.  But as we have seen in other countries that are now polio-free, this will require the full mobilization of every part of society.’

‘As we have seen over the past year, successful eradication requires massive and sustained investment as well as a targeted and dedicated effort of the entire health system to ensure each and every child gets vaccinated. We can no longer afford to say that we have missed one or two children. We need to reach them all,’ said Dr Rui Gama Vaz of WHO.

By reaching all children with lifesaving vaccinations, Angola will be in a better position to achieving the Millennium Development Goals related to child health.

Angola will conduct national immunization campaigns from 6-8 August and 10-12 September targeting 5.6 million children under the age of five. 

About the Global Polio Eradication Initiative
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) is spearheaded by national governments, WHO, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF. Since 1988 (the year the GPEI was launched), the incidence of polio has been reduced by more than 99 per cent. In 1988, more than 350,000 children were paralyzed each year in more than 125 endemic countries. In 2009, 1595 children were paralyzed in 24 countries. Only four countries remain endemic: Nigeria, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

For more information, please contact:
Ms. Lone Hvass, UNICEF Angola Chief of Communication,
Tel. No. +244 912 653 017

Dr. Jean Marie Yameogo, WHO EPI/Polio Team Leader Angola,
Tel. No. +244 912 201 809

Christian Moen, UNICEF New York, 
Tel +1 212 326 7516,  cmoen@unicef.org

 

 
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