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Côte d'Ivoire

UNICEF and partners mobilize to eradicate polio in Côte d’Ivoire

© UNICEF video
A child receives the oral polio vaccine in Côte d’Ivoire’s immunization campaign, which is part of a synchronized effort in eight West African nations.

By Yvette Bivigou

ADIAKE, Cote d’Ivoire, 3 March 2009 – UNICEF, the World Health Organization and Rotary International called for renewed mobilization to eradicate polio in Côte d’Ivoire last week, as they launched the first round of a new immunization campaign in Adiaké.

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Close to 6 million children have been targeted for vaccination throughout the country. The campaign is part of a synchronized effort to eradicate polio in eight West African nations: Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Ghana, Togo and Nigeria. More broadly, it is part of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, a partnership spearheaded by WHO, Rotary International, the US Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, and UNICEF.

The first of two rounds of immunization wrapped up yesterday.

Campaign targets 5.8 million
In a push to curb this paralyzing and often fatal disease, UNICEF and partners joined forces with the Ministry of Health to garner community support for the National Immunization Days.

UNICEF mobilized close to $1 million in support for the first phase of the mass vaccination campaign in Côte d’Ivoire. The government provided staff and logistical support, including 32,747 vaccinators, 1,637 outreach supervisors, 1,620 social mobilizers, 415 district coordinators and 166 monitors.

The campaign targets aims to reach about 5.8 million up to the age of five. Some 6.7 million doses of the oral polio vaccine mVPO1 were in stock in the country’s 18 districts for the first round of immunization.

Taking the threat seriously
Officials expressed mixed feelings at the National Immunization Days launch on 27 February. They said they were pleased about the major strides made in pushing back the disease since an outbreak occurred in 2004. At the same time, they voiced concern at the recent announcement of a new polio case in Adiaké district, south-western Côte d’Ivoire.

The wild poliovirus case was detected after a three-and-half-year-old girl named Aisha got sick in Kacoukro village, near Adiaké, in December 2008. The first diagnosis was malaria, but when Aisha started to limp, a blood sample was quickly sent to the Pasteur Institute for testing. In early January, the polio case was confirmed.

Aisha had never been immunized against any disease, because people in her village were suspicious about vaccinations.

“It’s very sad that Aisha had to get polio before people in her community and beyond start believing that vaccination works and should be taken seriously for each child,” said UNICEF Representative in Côte d’Ivoire Maarit Hirvonen.

‘One case is too many’
Until the report of the new case, Côte d’Ivoire was on track to be certified as polio-free. In 2004, after 17 cases of wild poliovirus were reported, immunization coverage improved, thanks to additional vaccination campaigns. But routine immunization rates worsened in 2007 and 2008 due to a decline in health care services and lack of vaccines.

© UNICEF Côte d'Ivoire/2009/Bivigou
UNICEF Representative in Côte d’Ivoire Maarit Hirvonen participates in the National Immunization Days.

“Inadequacies in revamping routine immunization are at fault in the reintroduction of this new case,” Ms. Hirvonen asserted. “While supplemental mass immunization campaigns are paramount, they cannot alone eradicate polio.

“I think that all governments in this region are now firmly behind the vaccination efforts,” she continued. “They understand that it’s in their own interest to save children’s lives. I only I hope that no child will be missed during this campaign.”

Added WHO Representative Dr. Komlan Siamevi: “One case is one too many. We are treating the situation in Côte d’Ivoire as an epidemic. We should do everything in our power to prevent the spread of the disease.”




2 March 2009: UNICEF’s Eva Gilliam reports on the first round of an immunization campaign in Cote d’Ivoire, part of a synchronized effort to eradicate polio in West Africa.
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