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Sudan continues effort to close down polio epidemic

Khartoum, 24 May 2005 -- In a continuing all-out effort to eradicate polio from Sudan, the Ministry of Health, backed by UNICEF, WHO and other organizations, today launched a three-day polio immunization campaign. The goal of this fourth round of National Immunization Days in 2005 is to immunize all children under five years, particularly those living in the poorest communities or those cut off by conflict.  These children are the key to stopping the spread of the disease.

The overall outlook across affected African and Arab States is encouraging.  Good results are emerging from the previous polio campaigns in 2005.  None of the countries where transmission re-emerged in 2004 have recorded any cases so far this year, and cases are also falling dramatically in Nigeria.

But Sudan is the exception. Eighteen of the 26 States of this vast African country now have confirmed cases of polio since the beginning of the outbreak in May 2004. A three-year period of polio-free status -- from 2001 to 2004 -- led authorities and health agencies to focus limited global resources on other countries. Sudan discontinued nationwide polio campaigns after 2002, and only sub-national immunization campaigns have been conducted over the past two years in order to reach borders and low routine coverage areas.

There are now 150 confirmed cases of polio in Sudan. The latest two cases were announced by the Ministry of Health on 15 May. These cases are in Khartoum and West Kordofan states, raising to 24 the total number of cases reported in 2005 (126 cases in 2004).

Authorities believe that these new cases of polio were introduced into the country by cross-border movements of infected individuals carrying the virus into Sudan and exposing unvaccinated children. The long war between the north and the south and now in the Darfur region of western Sudan has prevented access to basic health services for many, leaving unvaccinated children very vulnerable to this menacing virus. 

“With children already beginning to return with their families to the south from the north and from other countries, the risk of infection with the polio virus is greater than ever,” said Ms. Joanna Van Gerpen, UNICEF Representative in Sudan. “We must ensure that the positive trend of people returning to their home areas is not offset by increased disease rates due to lack of immunization.”
Sudanese authorities are responding aggressively to close down the epidemic that has recently spread to Yemen and Indonesia.  In Sudan, more than 6 million children have been vaccinated in each of the three rounds that have taken place this year and an equal number is expected to be reached in the round that began today. The immunization drive is crucial if further cases of infection are to be avoided among the estimated 6 million children under the age of five years.

“Our policy now is to completely eradicate polio from Sudanese territory,” said Dr. el Tayeb Ahmed el Sayed, National EPI Director in the federal Ministry of Health. The Ministry of Health aims to have no further cases of polio in 2005 and to maintain zero polio cases for the required three years for the World Health Organization to certify Sudan as free of polio.

So far in 2005, UNICEF, WHO, Rotary International and the Centers for Disease Control, among other partners, have provided funds totalling US$ 6.4 million to support the cost of vaccines and social mobilization efforts in Sudan.

For further information, contact:

Mark Bloch, UNICEF Media, Khartoum: +249-912-177297 mbloch@unicef.org

Paula Claycomb, UNICEF Media, Khartoum: +249-912-309410 pclaycombe@unicef.org

El Fadil El Tahir, UNICEF Media, Khartoum: +249-912-390627 eeltahir@unicef.org

Roshan Khadivi, UNICEF Media, Darfur: +249-912-177291, rkhadivi@unicef.org

M. Anis Salem, UNICEF Reg’l Communication Adviser, Amman: +962 79 557 9991, asalem@unicef.org

Damien Personnaz, UNICEF Media, Geneva: Mobile: +41-79-216-94-01, dpersonnaz@unicef.org





Related links

Eradicating polio

At a glance: Sudan

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