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Côte d'Ivoire

Civil unrest has been an ally in the rise of polio

© UNICEF Côte d'Ivoire/2005/Brez
President Gbagbo administering vaccine to child at launch in Daloa.

NEW YORK, 1 March 2005 - UNICEF and its partners have completed the first round of a campaign to eradicate polio in Côte d’Ivoire.

It’s part of a global drive to defeat the disease in 2005. 100 million children are targeted in 22 countries, in five rounds throughout the year.

Last year Africa recorded around 85 per cent of all the world’s polio cases. An epidemic in Nigeria re-infected 12 previously polio-free countries and re-established transmission in five - including Côte d’Ivoire, where 17 cases were reported in 2004.

Civil unrest has added to the challenges that Côte d’Ivoire faces in defeating the disease. Since 2002 the country has been divided between the rebel-held north and the government-controlled south. Many health care workers have fled the north, with serious consequences for children.

The government of Côte d’Ivoire strongly supports the polio initiative, and President Laurent Gbagbo declared a “war on polio” as he launched the first round of immunization in the central town of Daloa.

© UNICEF Côte d'Ivoire/2005/Brez
President Gbagbo at launch in Daloa, with polio sufferers Dame Séwé Déborah Laurentine and Ivorian singer Jos Kezo.

"I'm not a doctor or nurse, but if [Didier] Drogba had polio, would he be playing football today?" said Gbagbo, referring to the local football star who plays for the champion British football team Chelsea.

Dame Séwé Déborah Laurentine, a 29-year-old mother of three, invited all mothers to vaccinate their children at the launch, and Ivorian singer Jos Kezo, who has been displaced by the conflict, performed a song to encourage vaccination. 

Further south in Abidjan, Prime Minister Seydou Diarra also lent his support to the opening day of the campaign. 

Around 28,000 vaccinators went door to door to try and make sure that the the five million Côte d’Ivoire children under-five who are targeted for vaccination receive the vital drops. 5.1 million children between the ages of six months and five years were also targeted to receive Vitamin A supplements to boost their immune systems.

The African epidemic continues to export the virus to polio-free countries, but UNICEF believes that it is feasible to stop polio this year. Reaching this goal will mean getting the vaccine to every child - wherever they are - several times throughout the year. But funds for the initiative are running short. Another $75 million is urgently needed by July to hold campaigns in the second half of the year.




1 March 2005:
Jeffrey Brez, UNICEF Communication Officer in Côte d’Ivoire, describes the challenges of reaching children in the country during times of conflict.
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