DAKAR/BRAZZAVILLE, 23 April 2010 – More than 77 million children in 16 countries will be vaccinated against polio from tomorrow (Saturday) in the critical second round of a synchronized effort to stop a polio outbreak across west and central Africa.
However, Burkina Faso and Sierra Leone have postponed their campaigns until 7 May after vaccine delivery was delayed by the closure of airspace in Europe due to the volcanic eruption in Iceland. Existing stockpiles in the other 16 countries will allow this vaccination campaign to go ahead.
To date in 2010, four countries in West Africa have reported wild poliovirus cases: Senegal, Mauritania, Mali and Sierra Leone. Senegal currently has the most active transmission of type-1 wild poliovirus in the world, with 13 cases as of 21 April 2010. A further four African countries are still considered to have active outbreaks (that is, polio cases in the last six months): Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea and Liberia. These countries will be joined by polio-endemic Nigeria and neighbours Benin, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea Bissau and Niger in this massive synchronized effort to raise immunity in a block throughout sub-Saharan Africa.
A previous immunization campaign on 6 March targeted the same countries and, with few exceptions, achieved high coverage rates. In this round, campaigns will be strengthened in those countries where nearly 10% or more children were missed through greater focus on the quality of supervision and team planning, the development of micro-plans for immunization teams to follow, greater emphasis on children who are in transit, and the establishment of fixed immunization posts in populated areas, such as markets in urban centres and at border crossings.
In addition, children in six countries with recent cases - Burkina Faso, Guinea, Liberia, Mauritania, Senegal and Sierra Leone - received an additional dose on 26 March as part of a new Short Interval Additional Dose strategy that has proven successful in rapidly building population immunity where needed. The strategy is one of several new approaches being introduced this year, which also include standardized, independent monitoring of whether children have been reached, better training for vaccinators to fully carry out the plans, and appropriate deployment of experienced staff.
“We are making progress but much still needs to be done. Effective routine immunization, quality of surveillance and the participation of all is crucial to polio eradication efforts. I call on everyone including traditional and religious leaders, political and administrative authorities, civil society as well as populations at large to join us in making Africa and the entire world polio-free,” said Dr Luis Sambo, the World Health Organization Regional Director for Africa.
This epidemic first spread from Nigeria to its polio-free neighbours in 2008. A round of campaigns in 2009 did not stop the outbreak completely, as not enough children were vaccinated to stop polio transmission. After years with no polio cases, some countries lacked the necessary skills and experience to respond adequately to the outbreak. Nigeria, in contrast, continues to see the benefits of improved immunization coverage, with only two cases recorded to date in 2010 (compared with 193 cases at the same time last year).
"The only way to stop this terrible disease" said Dr Gianfranco Rotigliano, UNICEF’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa “is to ensure that all children under five years old are reached and focus attention on those countries where coverage rates must be increased, particularly in those hard to reach communities and peri-urban areas.”
To end this outbreak, two drops of oral polio vaccine (OPV) will be administered to every child at the door of every dwelling in all 16 countries. A dedicated army of more than 300,000 volunteers and health workers will work up to 12 hours per day, travelling on foot or bicycles, in cars and boats and on motorcycles, in often trying conditions. Each vaccination team will carry the vaccine in special carriers, filled with ice packs to ensure the vaccine remains below the required 8ºC.
“It’s critical that all children are reached in these upcoming immunization campaigns,” said Ambroise Tshimbalanga Kasongo, Chair of Rotary International’s African Regional PolioPlus Committee. “Polio has declined in both case count and geographic spread, and all countries must sustain this progress to defeat polio in Africa.”
The ministries of health are supported by, among others, key operational partners, including the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
"We believe that this is a public health priority and will thus strengthen the involvement of Red Cross Red Crescent National Societies and their volunteers during the April campaign,” said Anders Naucler, Health Coordinator for IFRC West and Central Africa. “It's our collective goal to vaccinate every child with two doses of oral polio vaccine. Together we'll improve upon the achievements made during March's activities and make sure that every child is vaccinated."
Notes to editors: The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) is led by national governments, with continued support from the spearheading partners--WHO, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF--as well as significant contributions by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and UN Foundation.
Since 1988 (the year the GPEI was launched), the incidence of polio has been reduced by more than 99%. In 1988, more than 350,000 children were paralyzed each year in more than 125 endemic countries. In 2009, 1606 children were paralyzed in 23 countries. Only four countries remain endemic: Nigeria, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The 19 countries participating in this synchronized immunization campaign are: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.
In most countries, the first immunization campaign was held on 6-9 March and the second round will be held on 24-27 April. In addition, children in six countries with recent cases - Burkina Faso, Guinea, Liberia, Mauritania, Senegal and Sierra Leone - received an additional dose on 26 March as part of a new Short Interval Additional Dose strategy that has proven successful in rapidly building population immunity where needed.