- A polio immunisation campaign starting Saturday in Nigeria is seen as a vital step in the world-wide effort to eradicate the disease. After Northern Nigeria halted and even reversed the global campaign last year, regional leaders are now hailed for the successful resumption of vaccination.
The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) has hailed a polio immunisation campaign starting Saturday in Nigeria as "a vital step in eradicating the disease" that once paralysed hundreds of thousands of youngsters worldwide each year, after a halt to vaccination in northern areas led to a dangerous renewed spread of the infection.
Immunisation campaigns were suspended in August 2003 in various northern states of Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, following concerns by public figures regarding the safety of oral polio vaccine, including rumours that it was contaminated by the HIV virus or that it could sterilise young girls. These rumours were sustained by the political and religious leadership in the state of Kano.
This halt led to the spread of the disease to 10 previously polio-free African countries, threatening efforts by the UN-backed Global Polio Eradication Initiative, a 16-year-old mass immunisation programme, to totally eliminate the disease. Kano was the last state to lift the suspension in July this year.
In the new campaign, thousands of Nigerian volunteers and health-workers will go door to door, house to house, village to village from 20 to 23 November, seeking to immunise all children aged five or under, at the same time as 22 other countries in Africa are holding synchronised National Immunisation Days.
- Since 1988 when the eradication initiative was begun, polio held sway in more than 125 countries, paralysing 1,000 children every day, UNICEF Representative Ezio Murzi said in a statement today.
Today, the polio eradication campaign has managed to slash polio cases by more than 99 percent; from 1,000 cases per day to 1,000 cases per year, Mr Murzi added. These campaigns had only been possible due to the assistance by national partners such as NPI, Nigeria's National Programme on Immunisation, he recalled.
Due to the suspensions, transmission of the wild poliovirus has significantly increased from 355 cases in 19 Nigerian states in 2003 to 682 cases in 31 states today. Poliovirus can travel from village to village and country to country through un-immunised children. "One un-immunised child anywhere puts children at risk everywhere," UNICEF emphasised.
Nigerian authorities have since August headed several polio immunisation campaigns, also in the northern states. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative expects several new rounds of immunisation to take place before the virus can be declared totally eradicated. These will be focused in Nigeria and Niger, the two countries most heavily affected by the disease worldwide, but also in several neighbour countries.
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