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World Polio Day: Kenya kick-starts a series of "Polio Encounters"


24 October 2013, Nairobi – Today, people around the world celebrated World Polio Day and shone a spotlight on the importance of the global polio eradication response. In Kenya, UNICEF and partners including the Government of Kenya, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, CDC, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Rotary International, USAID and WHO, kick-started a series of "Polio Encounters". This first encounter is to give Kenyan health journalists a chance to reconnect with the issue of polio, to understand the importance of the disease and the wider child survival and development agenda, and to help them to provide better coverage. 

Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by the poliovirus, which can cause paralysis and even death. There is no cure for polio, and the disease can only be prevented by immunization. “We are so close to eradicating polio. Yet outbreaks in non-endemic countries such as in Kenya, show that as long as polio exists anywhere in the world, children are at risk”, said Faten Kamel, Regional Polio Coordinator, UNICEF, Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office (ESARO). Globally, only three countries remain endemic for polio, including Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan thanks to a dramatic increase in the number of children being reached with vaccines. In 2013, only 99 polio cases were reported in those endemic countries compared to 166 cases during the same period in 2012.

At the "Polio Encounters" event, attended by over 50 Kenyan journalists, Senator Harold Kipchumba shared his moving story as a polio survivor. “Most campaigns take place with ordinary wananchi, (people) not the middle class. One case of polio affects everyone” he said. Since May 2013, the Ministry of Health has confirmed 14 polio cases. “Ending the transmission of polio is a critical step towards improving the lives of the world’s most vulnerable children. Since the past three months no new polio case has been reported in Kenya”, said Dr Ian Njeru, Head of Division of Disease Surveillance and Response, Government of Kenya. Since the polio outbreak, the country has conducted a total of five polio vaccination campaigns, targeting specifically the high-risk areas. Two nationwide vaccination campaigns are planned from 16 till 20 November 2013 and 14-18 December, targeting more than 8 million children under the age of five.

With the “Polio Encounters”, various media professionals got a rare opportunity to be sensitized on polio reporting and the available resources that they can use to promote the polio eradication response. “Having a chance to learn more about the disease, to fully understand the problems, and getting access to resources helps us tremendously in our daily work”, said Erastus Maleve, a journalist who participated in the event.



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