|Nigerian child receives vital polio vaccination|
NEW YORK, 18 November 2004 – A massive cross-border campaign to immunize children against polio is starting this week in Africa. From 20 to 23 November, thousands of volunteers and health workers will go door-to-door in 24 African countries to administer a second round of vaccinations in Africa’s largest ever public health initiative.
A first round of vaccinations was given successfully in October of this year. Eighty million children were immunized for protection against the deadly disease, amounting to approximately 90 per cent of children under five. In this round, vaccinators plan to reach every child under five years old and to focus on children in remote, hard-to-reach or minority communities.
The northern Nigerian state of Kano is at the epicentre of the polio outbreak. The World Health Organization says that 682 Nigerian children under the age of five have been paralyzed by polio this year.
Conflict threatens campaign
The coordinated regional drive faces an immediate threat from conflicts in west and central Africa.
Conflict has forced a postponement of the immunization drive in Cote d’Ivoire. Polio recently re-established its grip on the country, following the importation of the virus in January 2004. With Cote D’Ivoire’s health system battered by political instability and routine immunization averaging only 45 per cent, many thousands more children are at risk.
The upsurge in violence in the country and the resultant increase in cross-border movements as the population seeks safe haven could carry the virus into countries neighbouring Cote D’Ivoire.
UNICEF urges all nations bordering conflict-affected countries to strengthen polio surveillance and make special plans to immunize children who are difficult to reach, along borders or wherever there is high population movement.
Because there is no cure for polio, every child must be immunized to stop the spread of the disease.
In highly traditional societies, for example in Nigeria’s Kano state, trust is the critical issue. Vaccination programs were halted in the area for almost a year due to a local concerns over the safety of the polio vaccine. Residents were left vulnerable to the disease and the virus quickly spread as far as Botswana.
UNICEF is working with civic and religious leaders to build support for immunization among communities with limited access to routine healthcare.
UNICEF believes that religious leaders will play a crucial role in helping vaccination teams find the children most at risk – particularly in poor or remote regions.
9-10 October 2004 - Nigeria begins its vital second round of polio vaccinations
Watch the trailer for The Last Child: The Global Race to End Polio, a documentary that follows healthcare workers and experts in Haiti, Nigeria, India and other countries as they work to wipe out the deadly disease. The documentary was produced by independent producer Scott Thigpen and includes UNICEF footage and interviews with UNICEF staff. For more information, please visit lastchild.org.