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Protecting 15 million children from polio

© UNICEF/HQ96-1466/Pirozzi
A child is given polio vaccine at a UNICEF-assisted health centre in Ethiopia.

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, 23 March 2005 – A nationwide polio immunization campaign supported by UNICEF will soon kick off in Ethiopia, seeking to protect more than 15 million children under the age of 5 from the devastating disease.

On 22 February, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed two cases of polio in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region. The viruses involved in these cases were found to be genetically linked to viruses causing recent cases in Sudan, where a massive polio outbreak has resulted in 141 confirmed cases since May 2004.

“We were virtually on the verge of being declared polio-free, if it hadn’t been for the outbreak of the two cases,” said UNICEF Representative in Ethiopia Bjorn Ljungqvist. “It set off the alarm immediately. We really have to now stamp out every possibility of the virus spreading or entering the country.”

The Ethiopian Ministry of Health, with support from WHO and UNICEF  conducted Sub-National Immunization Days in border areas targeting 3.5 million children from 4-8 March.  Another two rounds of National Immunization Days (NIDs) will be held in April and May, targeting all Ethiopia’s children under the age of five.

At the same time, acute flaccid paralysis surveillance will be heightened, to ensure that any cases of poliovirus are rapidly detected and a timely response is implemented.

More than 100,000 volunteers and health workers are expected to go door-to-door to administer oral polio vaccine to children. UNICEF is confident about the outcomes of the campaign; until the recent cases, Ethiopia had been polio-free since January 2001, as a result of previous immunization efforts.

“The only problem we have right now is the funding shortage for the second round of the NIDs. About $4.9 million is still needed and we will have to work very hard to raise that outstanding balance in the next couple of weeks,” added Mr. Ljungqvist.





22 March 2005: UNICEF Representative in Ethiopia Bjorn Ljungqvist describes the nationwide polio immunization campaign, reaching 15 million children.
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