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First-ever synchronized polio campaign between Namibia, Angola and DR Congo

© UNICEF/2007/Crowe
A survivor of polio stands alongside an immunization campaign poster.

By Sarah Crowe 

ONDANGWA, Namibia, 28 June 2007 – When the gates at the border crossing on the Angola-Namibia border open, it's more than trade that can go rushing through. Polio and other diseases need no passports, and that fact triggered the first-ever synchronized polio campaign between Angola, Namibia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo across these long, often porous borders.

All children under the age of five here are being immunized in this first round.

A year ago, just as Namibia was on the edge of being certified polio-free, an outbreak of wild poliovirus left six adults dead and stunned the country into action. The entire adult population was immunized.

“I was so shocked; I couldn’t sleep when I heard about this terrible outbreak. We knew then we had to do everything in our power,” said the country's Minister of Health, Dr. Richard Nchabi Kamwi. “Namibia would have been declared a polio-free country by the WHO, but just when we were about to be declared, we had the worst polio epidemic in living memory. Thus we decided – collaborating with UNICEF, WHO – to launch [a polio immunization campaign]. We went for it, and here we are.”

© UNICEF/2007/Crowe
Singer and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Yvonne Chaka Chaka gives oral polio vaccine to a Namibian baby.

Mobilization in three countries

Forces from all three countries and others in the region, including South African singer and UNICEF Regional Goodwill Ambassador Yvonne Chaka Chaka, were mobilized for the launch of the synchronized campaign in northern Namibia. Under the countries’ three flags, Angolans, Namibians and Congolese all came together, pledging to kick polio out of Africa and keep on the march toward reaching health goals.

“Africa has enough resources to ensure our young children should stop dying. Unless we make sure that every young child gets fully immunized, we will not be able to achieve the health-related Millennium Development Goals,” Ms. Chaka Chaka told an applauding crowd.

“With the numbers of deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases increasing, some governments are not prioritizing or focusing on investing in immunization programmes that need to be sustained,” she added. “We need to urge our governments to do what they’re supposed to. The money given by the Global Fund and other funds has to be used appropriately. Please do not take the money to the Swiss bank!” 

Closer to polio eradication

In 1988, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, Rotary International and the US Centers for Disease Control came together to launch the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. That year there were 350,000 cases of polio reported worldwide; last year there were just under 2,000. So far in 2007, only 213 cases have been recorded.

The world is at the brink of eradicating polio, and the action now being taken by Namibia and its neighbours is being praised for moving the world closer to that goal.

“What the campaign means for children worldwide, if we look at it since 1988, is that we’ve had millions of children who’ve not been paralyzed, millions of children who have not died because of this huge initiative to eradicate polio,” said UNICEF’s Deputy Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Dorothy Rozga, who witnessed the launch of the synchronized campaign in Namibia.

Polio has seldom been seen by Namibians, and health workers often need to literally act out the effects of this crippling disease in order to explain what it is and how to stop it. But those living with the disease know all too well the need to make polio history.




June 2007:
UNICEF correspondent Sarah Crowe reports on first-ever synchronized polio campaign between Namibia, Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
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