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Joint press release

African Union leaders launch largest-ever, cross-border polio campaign in history

Polio partners welcome African Union’s firm response to outbreak

Embargo: 2 October, 2004 - 10:00 GMT  

DAKAR, GENEVA, NEW YORK, 2 October 2004 – More than 80 million children will be immunized against polio in 23 countries across sub-Saharan Africa (22 countries in West & Central Africa, plus Sudan), as part of the single-largest, public health campaign in history. Leaders of the African Union joined Heads of State from across the continent today in Kano, Nigeria to officially kick-off these activities. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative partners (WHO, Rotary International, U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) & Prevention, and UNICEF) welcomed the African leaders’ swift and decisive response to safeguard Africa’s investment in a polio-free future for children.

The polio campaigns, which will begin on 8 October, are vital to protecting African children from a looming polio epidemic and getting Africa’s polio eradication programme back on track. Sub-Saharan Africa had made tremendous progress in eradicating polio, stopping the disease in all but two countries (Nigeria and Niger). Over the past 18 months, however, 12 polio-free African countries have been re-infected by the virus. To stop the spread, 80 million African children will receive the polio vaccine during house-to-house campaigns in 23 African countries. The second round of the campaigns will begin on 18 November, with similar activities planned throughout 2005.

The series of massive cross-border polio campaigns were launched by H.E. Mr. Olusegun Obasanjo, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Chairperson of the African Union, and Professor Alpha Oumar Konaré, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, in the northern Nigerian state of Kano. Championing this historic event, Professor Konaré reinforced the importance of collective responsibility and issued a challenge to all Africans to ensure that all children are immunized during the upcoming National Immunization Days (NIDs), a challenge supported by Initiative partners.

“Polio anywhere is a threat to children everywhere”, said UNICEF West & Central Africa Regional Director Rima Salah. “The African Union’s leadership in the upcoming synchronized Polio National Immunization Days from 8-12 October is proof of Africa’s determination to stop polio transmission in Africa and achieve a great development victory for the world.”  

“Despite the great gains made by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative around the world, polio is now fighting back in Africa”, said Regional Director of WHO’s Regional Office for Africa, Dr E.M. Samba. “Now, more than ever, we have to stop polio forever, and we cannot do it alone. The leadership and support of the AU for polio eradication efforts are a sure sign of the commitment needed to end polio.”

“These polio immunization campaigns represent the world’s largest-ever, co-ordinated health initiative for children”, said past President of Rotary International and Kano resident, Jonathan Majiyagbe. “The success of polio eradication depends on delivering the polio vaccine to each and every child, including the most vulnerable and the hardest-to-reach. This visible leadership of the AU will inspire every one of the thousands of health workers, volunteers and Rotary members who are travelling house-to-house to ensure that no child is missed.”
Africa has shown itself capable of meeting the strategic and logistical challenges of massive, public health initiatives.  Similar polio campaigns conducted in 2000 and 2001 successfully stopped polio in all countries in sub-Saharan Africa, except Nigeria and Niger, demonstrating that the eradication strategies work. By the start of 2003, Africa had made the most rapid progress of any region in the world toward polio eradication, achieving unprecedented results within five years. The spread of polio across Africa in the past few months proves that polio can come back quickly, crossing international boundaries to paralyze un-immunized children no matter where they are. To date in 2004, 658 African children have been paralyzed by polio (87% of the global total). 

Beginning this week, thousands of volunteers, health workers and Rotary members will go door-to-door, house-to-house, village-to-village, on foot, by car, and by boat across 23 African countries.  Their aim is very clear:  to find every single child under the age of five years and vaccinate them against polio.  This massive logistical undertaking can succeed, but only with the tireless efforts and commitment of the people of Africa, and the governments of Africa. 

Note to Editors:

80 million children in 23 countries across sub-Saharan Africa (22 in West & Central Africa, plus Sudan), will be immunized during the synchronized, cross-border immunization campaign.  The participating countries are:  Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Cote d'Ivoire, DRC, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria, Niger, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo and the Sudan.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is the largest public health effort of all time. Launched in 1988 and spearheaded by the World Health Organization, Rotary International, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and UNICEF, the Initiative is a unique collaboration of governments, international organizations, the private sector, civil society and over 20 million volunteers. This bold initiative has cut the number of polio cases by more than 99% - from 350,000 per year to just 784 cases last year. Five million children are walking today who would otherwise have been paralysed. 

For more information, please contact:

Melissa Corkum, WHO Nigeria: 41 79500 6554; corkumm@who.int
Austine Oghide, WHO Nigeria: 0803 4022 390; oghidea@who-nigeria.org

Gerrit Beger, UNICEF Nigeria: 0803 4020 879; gbeger@unicef.org
Christine Jaulmes, UNICEF Nigeria: 0803 6497 630; cjaulmes@unicef.org

Vivian Fiore, Rotary International: 1 847 866 3234; fiorev@rotaryintl.org
Steven Stewart, US CDC: 1 404 639 8327; znc4@cdc.gov

Oliver Rosenbauer, WHO Geneva: 41 22 791 3832; rosenbauero@who.int

Claire Hajaj, UNICEF New York: 1-212-326-7566; chajaj@unicef.org

Kent Page, UNICEF West & Central Africa Region: 221-869-5876; kpage@unicef.org





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