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Renewed immunization efforts aim to make Sudan "Polio Free"

KHARTOUM, 12 February 2009 - Renewed efforts are being made to eradicate polio in Sudan, as the first mass immunization campaign of 2009, targeting nine million children, gets underway early next week in the country.

During 2008, 26 cases of polio were reported in Sudan compared to none in 2006. Cross-border transmission of the polio virus, exacerbated by Sudan’s limited rural infrastructure and frequent population movements, have presented new challenges to health agencies determined to wipe out the crippling virus.

“Despite the recent cases, the commitment to declare Sudan ‘polio free’ remains as strong as ever within the government, state-level health authorities, local communities and partner agencies,” said UNICEF Acting Representative in Sudan Dr. Iyabode Olusanmi. “Over the coming days that commitment will become truly measurable as over six million children in the north of Sudan, and some three million in Southern Sudan, are expected to receive polio vaccine.”

"The major challenge now is to stop the circulation of the wild poliovirus in Southern Sudan and to be prepared for any virus importation to the rest of the country," added Dr. Ahmed Hardan, WHO officer in charge for polio eradication. "These activities, in conjunction with a strong routine immunization programme and good quality surveillance activities are the strategies for the eradication of wild poliovirus.”

The immunization drive is being coordinated by the Government of National Unity and the Government of Southern Sudan, through what have become known as National Immunization Days – three days of intense activity that witness thousands of vaccinators going door to door in every community to reach all children in the target age group of under-five year olds. Last year, more than nine million children across the whole of Sudan were immunized against polio through such campaigns.

Nearly 38,000 vaccinators will be involved in the first phase in the north of Sudan, which officially starts on Monday 16 February. The origin of some recent polio cases have been traced to neighbouring countries, as porous borders and population movement have helped carry the virus from one country to another.

Increased efforts have been made to synchronize immunization campaigns across national borders, a technique that is known to reduce the risk of the virus circulating from place to place. A similar three day campaign will get underway in the states of Southern Sudan the following week.

“Tackling polio in Sudan requires a genuine sense of partnership, between agencies and between countries,” said Dr. Olusanmi. “Here in Sudan, UNICEF works closely with the government and in collaboration with the World Health Organization to provide funding and technical support for these campaigns, while donors such as the Governments of Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, Rotary International and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have ensured that vital funds are available for vaccines and training the immunization teams.”

The reasons for the appearance of new cases in Sudan in the last two years are unclear, although experts believe that improved monitoring and surveillance systems established since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005 may now be finding cases that previously would have been unreported.

The focus remains on improving vaccination coverage, not just through the National Immunization Days, but through routine immunization efforts. Last year, Sudan launched the Accelerated Child Survival Initiative which brings together a package of simple, cost-effective health services including polio and measles immunization, supported by training of local health workers, as part of a new approach to strengthening the delivery of integrated health services for women and children at community level.

WHO will sustain its support to Sudan’s National Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) through joint planning, management, training, social mobilization, reporting, supervision, monitoring, vaccine supply and maintenance of cold chain equipments.

“By combining intensive campaigns with increased investment in routine health care for children we can make significant strides in tackling diseases such as polio, and contribute to notable reductions in child mortality,” said Dr. Olusanmi. “We will continue these efforts tirelessly, until Sudan is free not only of polio but all preventable diseases that still claim too many young lives.”

UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments

For more information, please contact:
Edward Carwardine, Chief, Media & External Relations, UNICEF Sudan, Mobile: +249 (0)912 177 291, Email: ecarwardine@unicef.org
Abdel-Rahman Ghandour, Regional Chief, Communication, UNICEF Middle East and North Africa, Mobile: +962 (6) 550 2407, Email: arghandour@unicef.org
Ms. Rana Sidani Cassou, Communications & Advocacy Officer, WHO Sudan, Mobile: +249 (0)912 167 754, Email: sidanir@sud.emro.who.int




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