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News note

Polio eradication on track in Liberia

MONROVIA, 28 APRIL 2005 – Liberia’s second round of National Immunization Days (NIDs) campaign reached 1,159,854 children under five years of age, according to Health and Social Welfare Minister, Dr. Peter Coleman.

Paying tribute to the dedication and commitment of thousands of health workers, social mobilizers, volunteers, community leaders, parents, non-governmental organization (NGO) partners, and donors, Minister Coleman said they were the reasons for the success of the second round of this year’s NIDs. “We achieved our target for the current round. Unlike the first round in February, we exceeded our targets in all of Liberia’s 15 counties. We therefore have every reason to believe that our goal of eradicating polio from Liberia is on track because of the great support of all our partners and we want to commend them all,” Minister Coleman said at a press conference yesterday here in the Monrovian capital. The second round of NIDs was held from 8-12 April.

Success did not come easily. Thousands of national, county, and district level government officials, health workers, vaccinators, volunteers, social mobilizers, religious leaders, and NGO partners worked at a fever pitch to ensure the success of the second round, which aimed at reaching -- in just five days -- a target population of 1,090,906 children under age five. Travelling by car, on foot, by canoes, and whatever means possible, they systematically went from house-to-house, village-to-village, market stalls, and farms to administer two drops of polio vaccine to every child. While working on the NIDs on 8 April, two officials of the Ministry of Health escaped death when their vehicle somersaulted in Margibi County, south of Monrovia.

The second round of NIDs is one of four rounds that will be implemented in Liberia this year to vaccinate all children under five years each time with two drops of free and safe polio vaccine. During the current round, Vitamin A supplementation was given to every child between the ages of 6-59 months to help protect them from measles, blindness, respiratory infections, and diarrhoeal diseases.

The April 8 to 12 second round NIDs campaign was set in motion at a launch ceremony held in the northwestern city of Tubmanburg on 07 April. The Minister of Youth and Sports, Honourable Wheatonia Dixon-Barnes, served as the key launcher. Health Minister Coleman, UNICEF Representative Angela Kearney, Dr. Fussum Daniels of the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Superintendent of Bomi County, the Honourable Haja Washington, also attended the launch. Members of the Liberian Women for Peace Building Network, as well as scores of students and cultural groups, provided outstanding support to the launch.

“It is important for all of us, health workers, vaccinators, social mobilizers, community leaders, and parents to work with dedication and transparency in trying to reach the hardest to reach areas of Liberia and vaccinate every child,” said UNICEF Liberia Representative Angela Kearney during the launch. “If for some reason you’re unable to reach some areas, report the facts. This honest information will help all of us strategize and find ways to reach those areas and administer the polio vaccine to children.”

UNICEF in collaboration with the WHO and other polio partners is forging a strong partnership with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and local communities to help Liberia meets its goal of polio eradication. UNICEF is supporting the training of national, county, and district level social mobilizers, volunteers, local, and religious leaders in interpersonal communication skills to enable them to disseminate effective motivational polio messages to parents – so they bring their children to vaccination days. UNICEF provided the Ministry of Health with all of the vaccines used in the NIDs campaign, as well as all of the cold chain equipment (which is used to store vaccines at proper temperatures). UNICEF is also the funder of NIDs social mobilization efforts nationwide.

“UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Health to decentralize and manage the cold chain systems of the country which is moving vaccines and supplies closer to communities and parents throughout the country,” said Kearney. “Once we can minimize the logistical steps and increase access by having vaccines closer to local communities and have a system for the effective dissemination of messages about child preventable diseases, we’re certain of success in the fight against polio.”

Liberia is among 23 countries in Africa battling to eradicate polio. The aim this year of Governments across the continent is to vaccinate 80 million children against the polio virus. This massive effort is a direct response to a disease which risks paralyzing thousands of children in West Africa.

The final NIDs rounds for Liberia are scheduled to take place in November and December.

For media inquiries, please contact:

Patrick Slavin, Communications Officer, UNICEF Liberia, Cell # 06 538298, pslavin@unicef.org

MacArthur S. Hill, Program Communications Officer, UNICEF Liberia, Cell # 06 516183,




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