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At a glance: Sierra Leone

Dedication is paying off for Sierra Leone’s polio programmes

© UNICEF Sierra Leone / 2005 / Alusine Savage
A child receiving the polio vaccine in Waterloo, 30 kilometres outside Freetown. Concrete progress was recorded in the Polio Eradication Initiative.

By Alusine Savage

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone, 12 December 2005 – Sierra Leone is within reach of meeting its goal of being certified polio free, having just completed the final round of immunizations for this calendar year. 

The county’s Ministry of Health and Sanitation – working in partnership with the World Health Organisation (WHO), the European Union (EU), Rotary International and UNICEF – targeted more than 1 million children under the age of 6 to receive the polio vaccine during its National Immunization Days (NID’s) on 9-11 December. As part of this effort health officials also provided some 800,000 children with vitamin A supplements.

Sierra Leone is one of the few West African countries to meticulously keep to a timetable to eradicate polio by 2005. The eradication programme started in 1998 in the middle of the civil war. Seven years later NIDs reach over 100 per cent of the population they aim to serve – including children under the target age 6 – but also including many who are older. There has been no confirmed case of the wild polio virus since 2001. This trend indicates Sierra Leone will soon be certified polio free.

© UNICEF Sierra Leone / 2005 / Alusine Savage
Mr. Jeremy Tunnacliffe, head of the European Union Delegation in Sierra Leone, administering vitamin A supplement to a child at the Waterloo Community Health Centre.

On the second day of the effort, Saturday, 10 December, a high level delegation comprising officials from Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Health and Sanitation, the EU, WHO and UNICEF observed NIDs in Waterloo, about 30 kilometres from Freetown, the capital. Before administering the oral polio vaccine to a child in Waterloo, the Head of the European Union mission in Sierra Leone, Mr. Jeremy Tunnacliffe, said “There has been a massive global investment to date in the fight against polio – over $3 billion dollars, and countless volunteer hours. Stopping transmission in Africa would be a just return on this investment, proving we can work together to reach development targets.”

The success of polio eradication depends on political determination to hold high quality campaigns that deliver the vaccine to the hardest-to-reach children – those living in remote communities or difficult terrain, or who have little or no access to basic health care. Mrs. Abator Thomas, the Minister of the Health and Sanitation, said “With such effective partnership, Sierra Leone in the very near future will be declared polio free. This is a real indication of progress and development, of which the country can be proud.”

She pointed out that the momentum should be maintained so that every non-immunized child is reached – and routine immunization sustained. 

Examining a vaccine pack at the Waterloo Community Health Centre, Mr. Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Representative in the country, stressed that UNICEF will continue with the procurement of vaccines and support for the ongoing project. Polio-endemic countries tend to export the virus to polio-free countries. “This proves that polio anywhere is a threat to children everywhere,” he underscored. Mr. Cappelaere lauded the collaborative effort, and called on all to strengthen such partnerships for routine immunization and other health-related initiatives in Sierra Leone.





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