|Press Release WHO/21
9 April 1999
POLIO OUTBREAK IN CENTRAL AFRICA
WHO mounts outbreak control campaign to vaccinate 700,000 children
The World Health Organization today confirmed that the cause of an outbreak of paralysis among children living in Angola, Central Africa, was polio. A WHO mission team has been despatched to work with the Ministry of Health to control the outbreak.
Almost all cases that have been found are children under five; most are aged between one and two years. They are living in overcrowded municipalities in the capital Luanda, where families have fled to escape the recent conflict. The number of cases has risen sharply in recent days to 206 according to unconfirmed reports.
WHO received confirmation yesterday from the nearest testing centre, the National Institute for Virology in South Africa, that wild poliovirus type 3 had been isolated from 11 of the 22 stool samples taken from paralysed children in Angola.
Ninety percent of the paralysed children are either unvaccinated or partially vaccinated and therefore unprotected from the virus. Polio is a highly infectious disease which invades the nervous system and can cause paralysis in a matter of hours.
WHO and UNICEF are working with the Angolan Ministry of Health to mount an immunization campaign for outbreak control to vaccinate 700,000 children. A full National Immunization Day campaign to vaccinate 3 million children over a period of days is scheduled for the summer.
WHO is spearheading the international effort to eradicate polio by the end of the year 2000. In 1991, the last case in the western hemisphere was found in Peru. In 1997, the last case in the Western Pacific region that includes China was found in Cambodia. Only three major areas of transmission remain in the world: South Asia (Afghanistan, Pakistan, India), West Africa (mainly Nigeria) and Central Africa (mainly the Democratic Republic of the Congo).
As a result of mass immunization campaigns that reach hundreds of millions of children, the number of cases worldwide has fallen by almost 90 percent in ten years -- from 35,000 to 5,000 cases in 1999. Just a few vaccine drops guarantee a child life-long protection against the disease.
WHO launched its global polio eradication initiative in 1988. Major partners are Rotary International, UNICEF, the Centers for Disease Control, and the governments of Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Polio eradication relies on four main strategies: high routine immunization coverage with Oral Polio Vaccine; National Immunization Days which vaccinate millions of children under five in a single day; effective surveillance for Acute Flaccid Paralysis and wild poliovirus; door-to-door immunization known as "mopping-up" campaigns.
For further information, journalists can contact Mr Valery Abramov, Office of Press and Public Relations, WHO, Geneva. Telephone (+41 22) 791 25 43; Fax (+41 22 ) 791 48 58. E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
All WHO Press Releases, Fact Sheets and Features as well as other informationon this subject can be obtained on the Internet on the WHO home page http://www.who.int/