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Global polio eradication partners respond as polio outbreak claims first victims in Tajikistan

DUSHANBE, 23 April 2010 – After a 13-year absence, Tajikistan has recently witnessed a sudden reappearance of poliomyelitis (polio), with seven cases confirmed so far and more than one hundred cases suspected.

“Tajikistan was certified as a polio-free country in 2002,” says Santino Severoni, World Health Organisation (WHO) Representative in Tajikistan. “However, a massive increase in acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) cases, a major sign of polio, was recently recorded in the south-west of Tajikistan. It has now been confirmed through laboratory tests that we are facing a polio outbreak in the country.”

“This is the first imported polio outbreak in the WHO European Region since the region was certified polio-free in 2002”.

Hongwei Gao, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Representative in Tajikistan, adds: “The outbreak is expanding at a worrying rate. Most of the cases confirmed so far involve children. Therefore, we urgently need to immunize the country’s children 0 to 5 years to stop polio transmission and save children’s lives in Tajikistan.”

Together with their partners at the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, UNICEF and WHO are now working with Tajikistan’s Ministry of Health to plan and carry out an immediate response. Experience in outbreak interventions has shown that quick and repeated vaccination campaigns targeting children are highly effective in stopping outbreaks. In the next several days, UNICEF will deliver almost four million doses of oral polio vaccine (OPV) to immunize every child 0-5 years in Tajikistan.

A three-round country-wide immunization campaign will be implemented by the Ministry of Health with support from UNICEF, WHO and other partners at the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. Three extra doses of oral polio vaccine (OPV) will be administered to almost 1.1 million children 0 to 5 years in the country. The doses arrive in Dushanbe Tuesday morning.

UNICEF will support the campaign by supplying vaccines and will also lead communication and social mobilization effort to inform the society about the campaign. WHO will provide technical and financial support in planning the campaign, developing guidelines, and training the staff. In addition to that WHO team will continue epidemiological and clinical investigation of the outbreak.

Notes to editors:
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) is led by national governments, with continued support from the spearheading partners--WHO, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF--as well as significant contributions by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and UN Foundation.

For further information, please contact:
John Budd, UNICEF Geneva, +41 22 909 5429, jbudd@unicef.org
Liuba Negru, WHO/Copenhagen, +4520459274, LNE@euro.who.int
Sona Bari, WHO/Geneva, Tel +41 22 791 1476 or +41 79 475 5511, baris@who.int
Rod Curtis, WHO Geneva, Tel: +41 79 59 59 721, curtisr@who.int




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