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News note

National Immunization Days to curb spread of polio outbreak in Yemen

AMMAN/ SANA’A, 2 June 2005 – With 179 cases of polio now confirmed in Yemen, the Yemen Ministry of Health has launched a nationwide immunization campaign to break the back of the epidemic and stop the virus travelling further.

The door-to-door operation will reach an estimated 5 million children under 5 years in more than 320 districts in Yemen, finishing on 2 June. According to the Ministry of Health, around 11 million vaccine doses are required for the present campaign and the second round launching on 11 July. So far, UNICEF has sent six million doses.

The majority of new polio cases are being found in the Hudaidah governorate, on the Red Sea coast. The virus is believed to have travelled to Yemen from west Africa via Sudan.  The virus in Yemen is the same strain currently circulating in Sudan.

As part of its efforts to step-up community involvement, UNICEF is giving priority attention to a nationwide social mobilization initiative to stimulate the media support and active involvement of local councils, schools, mosques, community leaders and artists to use every possible channel for countering the threat of polio outbreak in Yemen. UNICEF and WHO teams are presently undertaking field visits to assist Governorate Supervisors and more than 650 District Supervisors and observers from local councils to monitor the process.

Imams joined in giving the call for vaccinating the children at mosques and mobile vans using amplifiers that roamed the villages to stir the interest of communities in the NIDs. With support from UNICEF, the Yemeni National Television sent out 21 teams to the worst hit districts to document the social mobilization activities and work on the mobile teams.

“Yemen now needs to utilize the NID momentum to revitalise child immunization and the primary health care system as a whole”, said Thomas McDermott, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. Activities that need to be implemented immediately include achieving sustainable high routine immunization coverage; continue polio eradication strategies and develop the surveillance system to identify any suspected case of polio.

Experience shows that as long as high-quality immunization campaigns are implemented rapidly, such outbreaks can be stopped relatively quickly. “High levels of routine immunization are the best national defence against re-infection by virus, with particular focus on the poorest communities”, McDermott added.

On the conclusion of the 3-day campaign, the Ministry of Health will go on national media to reiterate its call to parents who might have missed the opportunity to give polio drops to their children at fixed health centres which are gearing up for a sustainable routine immunization programme.

Sustaining effort requires sustained funding

Yemen is one of 16 countries to be re-infected by polio spreading out of West Africa. Emergency vaccination campaigns are essential to safeguard the global drive to beat polio.  Since 1988, polio cases have fallen by 99 per cent worldwide, thanks to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, spearheaded by UNICEF, the World Health Organization, Rotary International and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Only six countries are now endemic - Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Niger, Afghanistan and Egypt.

With strong international support and high-quality immunization campaigns, UNICEF and the global polio eradication partners are optimistic that polio can be stopped in Yemen soon.  Present concern, though, is about preventing the virus from spreading into surrounding countries that are currently polio-free. 

A major funding shortfall is threatening global efforts to contain the disease.  At present, an estimated $50 million is needed by July for immunization campaigns planned in the latter half of this year, with another $200 million required in 2006.

“If campaigns have to be curtailed for lack of funds, it will give polio a window of opportunity to return just as we reach the threshold of eradication.  It would also threaten a $4 billion investment by the global community to see a world where every child, in every country is safe from polio”, UNICEF declared today.

Note to broadcasters:  Video B-roll of immunization activities in Yemen on May 31 and June 1 will be available on Thursday June 2 through The Newsmarket at  http://www.thenewsmarket.com  and on UNIFEED via APTN's Global Video Wire at 2145 GMT on Thursday June 2 repeated at 0245 GMT Friday June 3. Please credit UNICEF on-screen.


For further information please contact
M. Anis Salem
Regional Communication Adviser
E-mail :asalem@unicef.org
Mobile: +962-79-557-9991

Claire Hajaj
Division of Communication
E-mail: chajaj@unicef.org
Tel: +1 212 326 7566
Mobile: +1 646 331 4547

Wolfgang Friedl
Communication Officer
E-mail: wfriedl@unicef.org
Mobile: +96279-573-2745

Naseem Ur-Rehman
Communication Officer
Mobile: +967-71760002




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