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Congo, Democratic Republic of the

Second round of national campaign against polio targets millions in Democratic Republic of the Congo

By Cornelia Walther

KALEMIE, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 2 June 2011 – A month after the first round of National Immunization Days 2011, a new five-day Government vaccination drive – supported by UNICEF, the World Health Organization and multiple partners – has reached out to immunize more than 12 million children under the age of five.

VIDEO: 2 June 2011 - UNICEF reports on continuing efforts in DR Congo to vaccinate children and adults against polio.  Watch in RealPlayer


Launching the second round of the campaign, Minister of Health Victor Makwenge Kaput said DR Congo has the means to eradicate the virus. “Our country does not have the right to failure when it comes to polio,” he said.

Since January, 50 cases of the wild polio virus have been registered in DR Congo – including eight cases in the territory of Kalemie. The area was chosen for the symbolic launch, given strong resistance from the community during the previous round of the polio campaign.

This time, a massive social mobilization campaign was undertaken along with systematic cooperation of religious groups. In addition to vaccinations, vitamin A – important in reinforcing immunity against polio – was distributed.

© UNICEF DR Congo/2011/Walther
Minister of Health Victor Makwenge Kaput administers the oral polio vaccine to a girl during the launch of the campaign to immunize millions of children and adults in DR Congo.

Putting an end to polio

“Never again am I going to skip a vaccination opportunity. I knew that polio exists but it seemed to be a faraway danger,” said Kyeusi Ngoy, 30. Her youngest daughter, one-year old Faila, was diagnosed with polio five months ago, one of the first cases this year. Ms. Ngoy has had her other three children vaccinated during the campaign with the help of mobile vaccination teams.

“We count the number of children in the household and note it down on the door before the campaign starts,” explains Aloma Shabani Crispin, member of a mobile team in the health zone of Niemba. “At the same time we explain to parents why they must vaccinate their children.”

During the three-day campaign, he visited an average of 300 households each day by foot under the scorching sun. “I am Congolese, therefore it’s my duty to do something to protect the children of my country,” he said.
During the second round of the campaign, several thousand mobile vaccination teams visited homes, schools and markets across the country. In the capital, Kinshasa, two additional days were scheduled, aimed at reaching the whole population in response to the increasing appearance of polio among adults there.

© UNICEF DR Congo/2011/Walther
UNICEF Representative in DR Congo Pierrette Vu Thi writes the number of vaccinated children on the door of the first family that was covered by this year's second national immunization drive against polio.

Polio-free for several years, DR Congo has battled the re-emergence of the virus since 2006. There were 100 cases reported last year. Thanks to renewed efforts, in the provinces of Bandundu and Kasai Occidental – epicentres of the epidemic in 2010 – no polio cases have been registered this year.
Immunization gaps are the central cause of the recent re-emergence and continued transmission of polio in DR Congo. They derive from deficient routine immunization coverage, which is a direct consequence of insufficient knowledge among families and inadequate health services at community level.

Vaccinating village by village

Kalemie is an illustration of the cycle that links disease prevention to basic health care, safe water, sanitation and hygiene behaviour. The territory, located in the district of Tanganyika, is not only home to polio, but also has an increasing number of children affected by measles. Furthermore, cholera is endemic in the area, with several dozen cases each year.

Population movements between countries and within provinces, a lack of health resources and difficult access to remote areas exacerbate the problems. “All children have the same right to health. No matter where they are born. We have a shared responsibility to make this right come true,” said UNICEF Representative in DR Congo Pierrette Vu Thi.



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