unprecedented health initiative crosses borders to
vaccinate 70 million AFRICAN children against polio
— Leaders from West and Central Africa have launched the largest
public health initiative in the region’s history.
Over several days, health workers and hundreds of
thousands of volunteers in 17 countries in the region are joining
forces to immunize 70 million children against poliomyelitis. The
effort is part of the global initiative to eradicate the crippling
disease and certify the world polio-free by 2005.
"This regional initiative is a model of the
integration we are trying to achieve through the Economic Community of
West African States (ECOWAS). When the countries of Africa work
together, we can accomplish so much," said Mr Alpha Oumar Konare,
President of Mali and Chairman of ECOWAS.
President Konare joined President Mamadou Tandja of
the Republic of Niger for the regional launching ceremony in Karma, a
small village near Niamey, Niger’s capital.
"In Niger we have worked hard to try to
eradicate polio," said President Tandja. "But there is still
much to do. We are very proud to now join the entire region in this
massive effort to wipe out a disease which has crippled too many of
Africa’s children for too long," he stated.
President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria attended
Nigeria's launching ceremony on 14 October. Nigeria is key to the
effort because it is the largest remaining reservoir of wild
poliovirus in Africa. In a video message on 27 September to a Global
Polio Partners' Summit at the United Nations in New York, President
Obasanjo vowed his personal commitment to wipe out the virus in
Nigeria. President Obasanjo has pledged US$ 15 million for the
purchase of polio vaccine for National Immunization Days (NIDs) in
Nigeria in 2000 alone.
At the end of 1999, the poliovirus was circulating
in only 30 countries in the world, 17 of which have had confirmed
poliovirus transmission so far this year. The infected or at-risk
countries which are synchronizing their polio national immunization
days include Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire,
Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania,
Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo. The first immunization
round is taking place from 14-23 October, with a second round
scheduled for the third week of November.
Synchronizing NIDs is a key strategy in the effort
to reach every child under five with polio vaccine, in a region where
large labour migrations, conflict and natural disaster have caused
frequent movement of populations across national boundaries.
Volunteers and health workers across the region are walking
door-to-door where necessary, vaccinating children in every household.
"In past NIDs, we have missed children in
areas which are difficult to reach. This time, we cannot afford to
miss these children. And we won’t," said Dr Antoine Kabore, of
Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Africa.
"Children in families who frequently cross
borders are often missed altogether during regular NIDs. For the first
time, health workers are setting up special immunization posts at key
border crossings," said Dr Rima Salah, the Regional Director for
UNICEF West and Central Africa. "It is the only way to be sure
they are protected against polio."
Leaders are also asking warring parties in the
region to stop fighting during the NIDs. "Where there is no
peace, I ask that warring factions lay down their arms, if only for a
few days. Allow the vaccinators in. Give them safe passage. They are
there to help your children," said President Konare.
Since the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was
launched in 1988, the number of polio cases globally has dropped from
an estimated 350 000 in 1988 to 7094 reported in 1999. Along with West
and Central Africa, the virus still circulates in South Asia,
including in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is
spearheaded by WHO, Rotary International, the United States' Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the United Nations
Children’s Fund (UNICEF). To date, Rotary International has
committed US$ 120 million for polio eradication in Africa. Worldwide,
Rotary has contributed US$ 378 million to the protection of more than
two billion children. By 2005, Rotary’s financial commitment will
reach nearly a half billion US dollars.
"In Niger alone Rotary International has
contributed over US$ 4 million to eradicate this crippling disease.
All across the region, hundreds of Rotarians will continue to
volunteer, raise funds and advocate for a polio-free Africa, and a
polio-free world," said Gaston Kaba, Chairman of Rotary’s
National PolioPlus Committee in Niger.
Several countries will also be giving Vitamin A to
children along with the polio vaccine. "We all know that Vitamin
A reduces childhood mortality by 23 per cent and it also saves
children’s eyesight," said Xavier Crespin of Helen Keller
International. "These synchronized NIDs are a tremendous
opportunity to not only put an end to polio, but to save children from
other deadly diseases."
The polio eradication coalition also includes
governments of countries affected by polio; private foundations (e.g.
United Nations Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation);
development banks (e.g. World Bank); donor governments (e.g.
Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Japan,
the Netherlands, Portugal, United Kingdom and United States of
America); humanitarian organizations (e.g. the International Red Cross
and Red Crescent movement) and corporate partners (e.g. Aventis
Pasteur, De Beers). Volunteers in developing countries also
play a key role; ten million have
participated in mass immunization campaigns.
Further information, Please
contact: Christine McNab, WHO, Geneva (+41 22) 791 4688, email@example.com;
Claudia Drake, WHO, Geneva (+41
22) 791 3832, firstname.lastname@example.org;
Vivian Fiore, Rotary
International, Chicago (+1 847) 866 3234, email@example.com;
Jeri Pickett, CDC, Atlanta (+1
404) 639 8454, firstname.lastname@example.org;
Alfred Ironside, UNICEF, New
York (+1 212) 326 7261, email@example.com;
Stacey Harris, UNICEF, New York
(+1 212) 326 7259, firstname.lastname@example.org;
Lynn Geldof, UNICEF
Communication Section, Geneva Tel(+41 22) 909 5531, email@example.com
For more information about polio eradication, see http://www.polioeradication.org