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UNICEF's chief of immunization on polio crisis in Africa

© UNICEF 2004
Dr. Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele
NEW YORK, 23 February 2004 - Polio is on the verge of eradication.  For only the second time in history we could triumph over a disease.

But this moment of opportunity is also a moment of crisis.  Because some states in northern Nigeria have refused to participate in recent immunization campaigns, polio is spreading in Africa. Now emergency efforts are underway to safeguard an incredible success story for Africa and keep the world on track to stop polio transmission by the end of 2004.

Starting on 23 February, 63 million children in Africa will receive the polio vaccine directly at their doors, as Governments and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative launch several waves of pan-regional immunization campaigns to deal with the rising emergency. 

If the vaccines reach every child, polio can be stopped.   In 1996, 75,000 children in 32 African countries were being paralysed by polio.  By the start of 2003, Africa had driven polio back to only 2 countries:  Nigeria and Niger, with 204 cases reported.  Africa stands on the brink of a great achievement in public health.  But a final victory is being kept agonisingly out of reach, push away by unfounded rumours that the vaccine itself is part of a plot to harm African children.

With all eyes on the coming polio campaigns in Africa, UNICEF’s Chief of Immunization, Dr. Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele, talks about the crisis, and the potential for Africa’s greatest success stories. He has been working in Africa in the area of immunization for over twenty years.

Biography

 At UNICEF, Dr. Okwo-Bele drives the polio eradication initiative as part of UNICEF’s Global Immunization Plus Activities.  In 2004, under his stewardship, UNICEF will procure and deliver more than 1 billion of doses of oral polio vaccine to approximately 250 million children across the world.  With WHO, Rotary International and the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), he oversees the development of strategies to eradicate polio globally.  He also coordinates UNICEF’s efforts to raise the capacity of each country immunize every child, bring immunization services into the world’s poorest communities and promote immunization as a child’s basic right to be protected against vaccine-preventable disease.

Questions:

English:

1. Why Africa become so important to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative?

Africa has by far [mp3]

2. In August 2003, the state of Kano in northern Nigeria suspended polio eradication activities.  Since then, several other states in northern Nigeria have followed suit. What effect has this had on the polio eradication effort in Africa and across the world?

It's very important [mp3]

3. Is there any truth to the rumours coming from certain religious groups in Nigeria that oral polio vaccine contains material harmful to children?

Been working [mp3]

4. Is resistance to immunization a new phenomenon?  It is an issue confined to certain groups – i.e. a Muslim issue, or an African issue?

We have [mp3]

5. On January 15 in Geneva, Ministers of Health from Africa and around the world promised to end polio transmission by the end of 2004. What does Africa have to do to meet that goal?

We should not [mp3]

6. What would you say to African governments and families participating in these and all coming immunization activities?

There is nobody [mp3]

French:

1. L’Initiative pour l’éradication mondiale de la polio affirme que 63 millions d’enfants doivent être vaccinés pour enrayer la propagation de la polio en Afrique. Pourquoi la polio se propage-t-elle à nouveau dans l’Afrique de l’Ouest et l’Afrique centrale ?

Nous avon [mp3]

2. En août 2003, l’Etat de Kano, dans le Nord du Nigéria, a interdit la vaccination contre la polio parce que, à en croire des rumeurs locales, la campagne d'éradication fait partie d’un complot occidental dirigé contre les musulmans africains. Les croyances religieuses sont-elles incompatibles avec la vaccination ?

Pas de tout [mp3]

3. Certains groupes religieux au Nigéria ont affirmé que le vaccin oral contre la polio contient des produits contaminants nocifs pour les enfants. Est-ce vrai ?

Ca na pas [mp3]

4. Que doit faire l’Afrique pour éradiquer la polio ?

Afrique est extra [mp3]

5. Lors de la réunion des ministres de la santé le 15 janvier à Genève, l’UNICEF et ses partenaires ont demandé  aux gouvernements de redoubler d’efforts. Pourquoi ?

Afrique a UN [mp3]

6. Que diriez-vous aux familles africaines qui participent aux campagnes de vaccination contre la polio au cours des trois prochains mois ?

Pourquoi nous devons [mp3]


 

 

 

Audio clips

UNICEF’s Chief of Immunization, Dr. Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele, talks about the polio campaigns in Africa.

1. Why has Africa become so important to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative?

Africa has by far [mp3]

2. In August 2003, the state of Kano in northern Nigeria suspended polio eradication activities.  Since then, several other states in northern Nigeria have followed suit. What effect has this had on the polio eradication effort in Africa and across the world?

It's very important [mp3]

3. Is there any truth to the rumours coming from certain religious groups in Nigeria that oral polio vaccine contains material harmful to children?

Been working [mp3]

4. Is resistance to immunization a new phenomenon?  It is an issue confined to certain groups – i.e. a Muslim issue, or an African issue?

We have [mp3]

5. On January 15 in Geneva, Ministers of Health from Africa and around the world promised to end polio transmission by the end of 2004. What does Africa have to do to meet that goal?

We should not [mp3]

6. What would you say to African governments and families participating in these and all coming immunization activities?

There is nobody [mp3]

French

1. L’Initiative pour l’éradication mondiale de la polio affirme que 63 millions d’enfants doivent être vaccinés pour enrayer la propagation de la polio en Afrique. Pourquoi la polio se propage-t-elle à nouveau dans l’Afrique de l’Ouest et l’Afrique centrale ?

Nous avon [mp3]

2. En août 2003, l’Etat de Kano, dans le Nord du Nigéria, a interdit la vaccination contre la polio parce que, à en croire des rumeurs locales, la campagne d'éradication fait partie d’un complot occidental dirigé contre les musulmans africains. Les croyances religieuses sont-elles incompatibles avec la vaccination ?

Pas de tout [mp3]

3. Certains groupes religieux au Nigéria ont affirmé que le vaccin oral contre la polio contient des produits contaminants nocifs pour les enfants. Est-ce vrai ?

Ca na pas [mp3]

4. Que doit faire l’Afrique pour éradiquer la polio ?

Afrique est extra [mp3]

5. Lors de la réunion des ministres de la santé le 15 janvier à Genève, l’UNICEF et ses partenaires ont demandé  aux gouvernements de redoubler d’efforts. Pourquoi ?

Afrique a UN [mp3]

6. Que diriez-vous aux familles africaines qui participent aux campagnes de vaccination contre la polio au cours des trois prochains mois ?

Pourquoi nous devons [mp3]

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