LUANDA, 27 August 2004 – In the same week as three African countries were re-infected with polio, Angola today takes another step towards being declared polio-free when it begins the immunisation of five million (under five) children.
One month after Angola’s first successful round of National Immunization Days (NIDs) vaccinated 96 percent of the five million target, the second NID comes against a backdrop of international alarm that polio is spreading.
“The timing of this campaign is critical,” said UNICEF Angola Representative, Mario Ferrari. “Angola is winning the war against polio – not a single case has been reported in three years, but the new cases around Africa necessitate that we remain vigilant.”
This week epidemiologists from the Global Polio Eradication Initiative confirmed the re-infection of Guinea, Mali and Sudan. Since January 2003, 12 previously polio-free countries have been re-infected, including Botswana, just 60km from Angola’s southern border.
Angola’s progress in eradicating polio also forms the base from which all children will receive improved health services, including routine immunization. In the past year the number of children routinely vaccinated has risen by 20percent (from 40 to 60percent), while admissions of severely malnourished children have dropped by 80percent since the end of Angola’s devastating 27-year war.
“WHO and partners want to see polio gone once and for all children in Angola,” said WHO’s acting Representative in Angola Dr Nasir Yusuf.
“For this to happen routine immunization coverage rates need to rise to a minimum of 80percent, together with an improved AFP surveillance system which will ensure early detection of all suspected polio cases.”
Today’s second round of NIDs also come at a time of depleted donor funds for polio eradication in Angola, however increased Government commitment will ensure the success of the campaign. “The efforts of Government in pushing for Angola’s polio-free status, while seeking to rebuild the health system should be recognised,” said Ferrari. “These are positive signs that bode well for continued – and crucial – reductions in child mortality.”
Angola’s three-day NID is supported by all levels of society, with Rotary International, USAID, the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the CORE Group boosting Ministry of Health funds. More than 150 tons of immunization equipment have been distributed throughout the country, 12,000 vaccination teams and 47,000 social mobilisation activists and volunteers have joined the effort, together with health technicians, church and theatre groups.
Angola’s Ministry of Health, WHO and UNICEF commenced polio campaigns in Angola in 1996 and they have been held every year since. Although polio eradication efforts were hampered by the country's civil war, both the incidence of polio cases and the geographic circulation of poliovirus have decreased substantially.
The number of Angola’s 164 municipalities not accessible during the NIDs decreased from 51 (31%) in 1999 to 24 (15%) in 2000 to 10 (6%) in 2001. As a result, following a polio breakout in 1999 (which saw more than 1000 cases), the number of cases dropped to 55 in 2000. The following year just one case of polio was confirmed. Peace accords of 2002 meant that for the first time the Ministry of Health, with the support of UNICEF and WHO, were able to attack polio nationwide. During the 2002 NIDs all but one municipality was accessed and there were no reported cases of polio. The following year Government, UNICEF and WHO reached every single Angolan child under five. The same aims remain for 2004.
“Angola can and will defeat polio,” said UNICEF’s Ferrari. “Of course there will remain many battles for children still to be won, but with continued international support and growing political commitment, I am confident polio will be one in a chain of victories.”
For further information, please contact:
James Elder, UNICEF Angola (244) 91 - 219 524
Jose Lois Mendonca, UNICEF Angola (244) 91- 233 468
Jose Caetano WHO Public Information Officer