|Press Release WHO/56
8 October 1999
SIERRA LEONE OPENS WAY FOR
Just 12 weeks after a cease-fire that ended eight years of bloody civil war, Sierra Leone's government and various rebel representatives have agreed to support a nationwide polio vaccination campaign involving thousands of health workers and volunteers. The campaign represents a major step forward in the global fight to eradicate polio and will be one of the first national civilian undertakings in Sierra Leone since the cease-fire was signed.
The World Health Organization, the United Nations Children's Fund and Rotary International will join national authorities to launch the campaign on 9 October, targeting 800,000 children under the age of five over a period of five days. On the opening day of the campaign, President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah will administer oral polio vaccine to children.
Sierra Leone is the last country to begin the nationwide campaigns necessary for polio eradication. Despite war in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia and South Sudan, vaccination campaigns will have been carried out in all these countries in 1999. Formal truces were declared in DR Congo with support from UN Secretary-General Mr Kofi Annan in August. War remains the greatest hurdle facing the global polio effort.
The heads of WHO and UNICEF commended Sierra Leone's leaders for their commitment to the initiative. "With the headlines so full of the tragedies of conflict, it is truly worth celebrating when parties can set aside their differences in the interests of the health of their children and the world," said Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of WHO.
"We have always believed that the idea of protecting the health and welfare of children can bring people together in constructive ways," said Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF. "In this 10th anniversary year of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it is gratifying to see every youngster's right to immunization becoming a reality."
The first National Immunization Days in Sierra Leone in November 1998 were interrupted by fighting between the government and rebel groups. As a result, only 70 percent of children were immunized and they received just a single dose of polio vaccine instead of the two doses that had been planned.
WHO, UNICEF and Rotary International are spearheading the global campaign to eradicate polio by the end of the year 2000. Since 1988, when this goal was established, the estimated number of paralytic polio cases has fallen from almost 400,000 to just 20,000 today. National Immunization Days have been conducted in over 120 countries, with formal truces for polio eradication in Afghanistan, DR Congo, El Salvador, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Tajikistan. Just a few vaccine drops guarantee a child life-long protection against the disease.
WHO launched its global polio eradication initiative in 1988. In addition to UNICEF and Rotary International, major partners include 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 that vaccinate millions of children under five in a single day; effective surveillance for Acute Flaccid Paralysis and wild poliovirus; and door-to-door immunization known as "mopping-up" campaigns.
For further information, journalists can contact Mr Gregory Hartl, Public Relations, WHO, Geneva. Telephone (41 22) 791 4458. Fax (41 22) 791 4458. Email: email@example.com or Becky Owens, Communications Officer, Polio Eradication Initiative, WHO, Geneva. Telephone (41 22) 791 3832. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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