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UNICEF supports fight against Xinjiang polio outbreak

RMB 3 million provided to mobilize community outreach

Beijing, 18 November 2011 - After being declared polio-free for more than a decade, China is experiencing an outbreak of the disease in the north-western province of Xinjiang Autonomous Region.

One of the most dreaded childhood diseases of the 20th century; wild polio virus was identified as being "imported" into China from Pakistan in August of this year. So far 18 cases of polio have been confirmed and one patient has died.

Children show their red finger nails indicating they have been vaccinated .

In response to the outbreak national and provincial governments have mobilised a massive campaign which began in September 2011. Three rounds of special polio immunization activities have been launched, and vaccines have been administered to thousands of children in Kashgar, Kezilesu Kirgiz Autonomous Prefecture, Hotan, Bayingolin Mongol Autonomous Prefecture and Urumqi city. The most recent round of immunization kicked off on 15 November.

Working closely with the Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization and other partners, UNICEF China has quickly mobilised more than 3 million RMB to support vitally important communication campaigns.  One of UNICEF's first actions was to engage the Bureau of Ethnic and Religious Affairs and local religious leaders to ensure a strong outreach through local Mosques.

Mobile immunization teams on donkey cart.

This week a small team of four UNICEF specialists travelled to the region to support and monitor administration of polio vaccines to every child in the high risk zones. Despite very bad winter weather the team took part in vaccination efforts in a migrant community of over 10,000 living on the outskirts of Urumqi. On the previous round of campaigns 1,200 children were vaccinated.

"UNICEF China are focusing on children in the most severely affected areas such as Hotan. Young children are especially vulnerable towards polio since the epidemics will cripple children causing paralysis and even death."  said Dr Zhu Xu, immunization specialist of UNICEF China.

Extensive government agency resources have been allocated to combat the polio outbreak. "It is touching to see the 18 immunization teams braving the first winter snow storm to make sure no child is missed out in a community of 10,000 migrants," commented Tim Sutton, Deputy Representative of UNICEF China.

One mobile team of two are responsible for both immunization and record taking. They walked from house to house to make sure every child is vaccinated. Polio has no known cure.

950 children are targeted in the current round of special immunization activities, as many children have travelled out of the area because of the Muslim Festival (Eid).  "Some of the children we met were receiving their first polio immunization, indicating our multi-lingual communication campaign is effective." Tim Sutton said.

by Liang Ruoqiao



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