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Congo, Democratic Republic of the

UNICEF and partners battle the re-emergence of polio in DR Congo

© UNICEF DR Congo/2011/Walther
A member of DR Congo's national football team is vaccinated in Kinshasa as part of a city-wide campaign to vaccinate eight million people against polio. The player's left pinkie finger is coloured to avoid duplication.

By Cornelia Walther

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 29 March 2011 – A five-day vaccination drive to help eliminate polio in Kinshasa was completed this week. The campaign, organized by UNICEF and partners, aimed to reach more than eight million people.

Since January, nine cases of the wild polio virus have been registered in the capital. The disease usually affects mostly children, but the latest outbreak of the polio epidemic in DR Congo – which began last year – is also now increasingly found in adults, where it takes its most severe form.

Resurgent virus

“Our goal is to eradicate polio,” said Minister of Health Victor Makwenge Kaput at the launch.

DR Congo had been polio free for several years, but the virus is now on the rise once more. Last year there were 101 cases. So far this year 26 cases have been reported.UNICEF National Ambassador and captain of the DR Congo’s football team, Tresor Lualua, supported the campaign. “Children are our future,” he said. “That’s why it would be inexcusable to not ensure that they are in good health.”

© UNICEF DR Congo/2011/Walther
A mobile vaccination team waits for the national football team to be vaccinated in Kinshasa, the capital of DR Congo.

The following day the whole national football team was vaccinated by a mobile vaccination team in Kinshasa’s stadium. A total of more than 5,000 mobile vaccination teams visited schools, markets, health centres, offices and homes.

Despite logistical challenges, the campaign was a success. So much so that by the last day, showing the ink-stained small finger of your left hand – which signified you’d been vaccinated – became a form of greeting.

“Whenever we asked someone on the street if he or she was vaccinated, they showed us their marked finger,” said the chief doctor of the Kinshasa Health Zone, Barumbu Gentil Mulumba. “It’s like a secret code.”

‘Shared responsibility’

Yet continued success in tackling polio in DR Congo is only possible if similar efforts are undertaken to eradicate the virus in neighbouring countries from which it can also spread.

© UNICEF DR Congo/2011/Walther
In Kinshasa, a boy is vaccinated against polio. The virus has returned to DR Congo after several polio-free years.

Angola – which has one of the highest rates of prevalence in Africa – is undertaking a national vaccination campaign this year as part of a concerted effort in the region.

But challenges in containing polio outbreaks remain. For example, crossing between the capital cities of the Republic of Congo and the DR Congo is easy – the two countries are only separated by a river, over which ferries carry thousands of passengers each day.

“DR Congo is close to reaching the goal of polio eradication,” said UNICEF Representative in DR Congo Pierrette Vu Thi. “We have a shared responsibility to act and kick it out, now and forever.”



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