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Media advisory: West Africa synchronized polio immunization campaign, February-March 2009


53 million children under 5 are expected to be reached across 8 West African Countries in a coordinated polio immunization campaign.  The action is being organized as part of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative*.

During the immunization days teams will go door-to-door while others will be in schools and health centers. The plan is to reach every child, even in the most remote rural areas or in the most populated urban areas.

More than 162,000 trained immunizers will aim to reach every child with a polio vaccine (67,000 for Nigeria only).  A total of 66 millions doses of vaccine are made available for each round of the campaign (33 million for Nigeria only).

*** For updates on the campaign via Google Maps, please click here ***

This synchronized cross-border polio campaign will take place in 8 countries simultaneously: Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, Niger and Togo, in coordination with Nigeria.

The campaign is scheduled in two rounds: the first from 27 February to 2 March and the second from 27 to 30 March 2009. In Ghana, the first round took place from 12-14 February.

Information activities have already started to prepare the ground. These include the involvement of local authorities, traditional and religious leaders; interpersonal communication at the community level by social workers and volunteers; community mobilization and the broadcast of TV and radio spots

In 2008, the polio outbreak in northern Nigeria spread to 6 countries in West Africa. The wild polio virus had already re-infected Niger in 2007, as well as Chad and Cameroun in Central Africa.

The campaign aims at reaching a critical mass of polio immunization coverage in order to stop the spread of the wild polio virus. The highest priority is to reach every child in Nigeria and in the high-risk areas across the region (districts where cases where reported in re-infected countries, districts with low routine immunization coverage and districts where new case surveillance is weak).

The key to stopping polio in its tracks is comprehensive and coordinated vaccination campaigns and cross-border planning. Undertaking the campaign simultaneously in 8 countries reduces the risk of missing children, particularly in a context where there is likely to be large movements of population.

WHO is Involved?
The campaign mobilizes the teams of the health ministries of all the countries, supported by UNICEF, WHO, Rotary International and other partners as well as volunteers, traditional and religious chiefs and the media.

On the ground, more than 162,000 trained immunizers will aim to reach every child with an oral polio vaccine (67,000 for Nigeria only).  A total of 66 millions doses of vaccine are made available for each round of the campaign (33 million for Nigeria only).

This campaign is part of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, a partnership spearheaded by WHO, Rotary International, the US Center for Diseases Control and Prevention and UNICEF.

The polio eradication coalition includes governments of countries affected by polio; private sector foundations (United Nations Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation); development banks (World Bank); bilateral donor governments; the European Commission; the International Red Cross and Red Crescent societies and nongovernmental organizations as well as corporate partners (Sanofi Pasteur, De Beers and Wyeth). Volunteers in developing countries also play a key role.

About polio
Poliomyelitis (polio) is a highly infectious viral disease, which mainly affects young children under five. The virus is transmitted through contaminated food, water and feces. The virus attacks the nervous system. One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis (usually in the legs). Among those paralyzed, 5% to 10% die when their breathing muscles become immobilized (WHO).

Polio cannot be cured and can only be prevented by immunization. WHO recommends that infants receive three doses of oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV) in the first year of life.

Polio in the world
In 2008, only four countries in the world remain polio-endemic, down from more than 125 in 1988. The remaining countries are Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan.

Polio in West Africa
In 2008 (as of 24 February 2009), 803 cases of wild polio virus were reported in Nigeria and 41 cases of imported wild polio virus were reported in Benin (6), Burkina Faso (6), Côte d'Ivoire (1), Ghana (8), Mali (1), Niger (13) and Togo (3). All imported cases are type 1 polio virus, except one case in Benin that was type 3 polio virus.

As of 13 February, 26 cases of wild polio virus have been reported in West Africa - Nigeria (25) and Niger (1).

Cost of the campaign
The total cost of the campaign is $29 million for the 7 countries, with an additional $38 million Nigeria. This amount includes the cost of vaccine, operational cost, social mobilization and surveillance.

For more information, please contact:
Martin Dawes, UNICEF Regional Office , Tel:+ 221 77 869 5842
Brigitte Helali, Communication Specialist, UNICEF regional Office, Tel: + 221 77 502 73 89
Oliver Rosenbauer, WHO Geneva, Tel:+ 41 227 913 832

For updates on the campaign, please visit:



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