116m children to be immunised against polio in 13 African countries, says WHO

Abuja, March 24, 2017 (TNE):The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said more than 190,000 polio vaccinators will immunise 116 million children in 13 countries across West and Central Africa in the next week.

The exercise is an effort to tackle the last remaining stronghold of polio on the continent, according to a statement from the organisation.

The synchronised vaccination campaign, one of the largest of its kind ever implemented in Africa, is part of urgent measures to permanently stop polio in Africa.

All children under five years of age in 13 countries will be simultaneously immunised in a coordinated effort to raise childhood immunity to polio across the continent.

The countries include Benin, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti recalled that campaign of Nelson Mandela the pan-African ‘Kick Polio Out of Africa’, 20 years ago.

“At that time, every single country on the continent was endemic to polio, and every year, more than 75,000 children were paralysed for life by this terrible disease.

“Thanks to the dedication of governments, communities, parents and health workers, this disease is now beaten back to this final reservoir.”

Dr Moeti, however, warned that progress was fragile, given the epidemic-prone nature of the virus.

The UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Ms Marie-Pierre Poirier, commended the commitment of African leaders and added that there was confidence polio could be wiped out, thereby protecting future generations of African children.

“Polio eradication will be an unparalleled victory, which will not only save all future generations of children from the grip of a disease that is entirely preventable – but will show the world what Africa can do when it unites behind a common goal,” Poirier said.

Michael K McGovern, Chair of Rotary’s International PolioPlus Committee said the coordinated response was what was needed to eliminate polio outbreak.

“Every aspect of civil society in these African countries is coming together, every community, every parent and every community leader, to achieve one common goal: to protect their children from life-long paralysis caused by this deadly disease.”

Volunteers and health workers would work up to 12 hours daily, delivering bivalent oral polio vaccine (bOPV) to every house across all cities, towns and villages of the 13 countries.

Each vaccination team would carry the vaccine in special carrier bags, filled with ice packs to ensure the vaccine remains below the required 8°C.

WHO noted that the full engagement of political and community leaders at every level is critical to the success of the campaign.

“It is only through the full participation of this leadership that all sectors of civil society are mobilised to ensure every child is reached..” (TNE)

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