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Bangladesh responds to first case of polio in five years with massive immunisation campaign

Dhaka, 16th March, 2006 - Bangladesh will immunize 18 million children under the age of five years three times in the next three months due to the re-emergence of the poliovirus after an absence of the disease for more than five years. The last reported case of polio in Bangladesh was in August 2000.

The Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Dr Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain, said the immunisation campaign will begin immediately with hundreds of thousand of people mobilized around the country to prepare for three National Immunisation Days (NIDs) on April 16th, May 13th and June 11th.

This response comes after a nine year-old girl became paralyzed by poliovirus on 23rd January. On March 8th, genetic sequencing of the virus by the Global Specialized Polio Laboratory in Mumbai India, which tests all polio samples from Bangladesh, showed that the virus is closely related to viruses from western Uttar Pradesh in India.

India is one of only four countries in the world that remain endemic to the disease (along with Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan).

The outbreak may continue to spread in the immediate area of the first identified case and beyond. Circulation of the poliovirus could be occurring in other parts of Bangladesh; however this is unknown at the moment. Due to the uncertainty of the situation, it was decided by the Government of Bangladesh to immunize the entire population of children under five years of age.

“The Government of Bangladesh through the Ministry of Health has engaged in a timely and appropriate response which is in line with WHO recommendations for polio eradication. The Government’s excellent surveillance system and quick action means Bangladesh is on the right track to limit the spread of the virus,” said Dr Duangvadee Sungkhobol, WHO Representative to Bangladesh.

Poliomyelitis (polio) is a highly infectious disease caused by the polio virus. It invades the nervous system, and can cause paralysis or even death within hours. The polio virus enters the body through the mouth, in water or food that has been contaminated with faecal material from an infected person. The virus multiplies in the intestine and is then excreted by the infected person in faeces, which in turn can pass the virus on to others.

Polio mainly affects children under five years of age but in rare instances it can also affect older children.

“After a five year absence it is regrettable that Bangladesh now has polio again but UNICEF, WHO and Rotary are working with the Government to support them in all their efforts to stamp out polio and again make it a polio-free country,” said UNICEF Country Representative, Louis-Georges Arsenault.

The Rotary Foundation has already approved a US$150,000 Rapid Response Grant to support the first National Immunization Days since 2004.

“We feel confident that this will be contained and we will (again) have our polio-free status,” Mr Alam says. “We have won our fight against polio and we will continue to do so. We are very, very confident that this one case of polio will not tarnish our record.”

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is spearheaded by WHO, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative has reduced the incidence of polio by more than 99% since its launch in 1988, from 350,000 annual cases to 1,940 cases in 2005 (as at 14 March 2006).

For more information contact:

Kirsty McIvor Communications Officer,
UNICEF +8802 933 5807, +880173043478

Dr Serguei Diorditsa, Medical Officer,
WHO Bangladesh Expanded Programme on Immunization 
+8802 989 9540



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