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New African pledge to eradicate polio

afrol News, 13 January - Following a year in which Africa grappled with an escalating polio epidemic, Ministers of Health of the key affected countries today concluded that the spread of polio was slowing in most countries. Despite the recent spread of virus to Sudan and Saudi Arabia, the eight African Ministers were optimistic about wiping out the paralysing disease.

The 2005 eradication strategy for Africa, established by Health Ministers of eight African countries at the World Health Organisation's (WHO) headquarters in Geneva today, involves a massive series of immunisation campaigns across 25 countries, supported by strengthened polio surveillance. The Ministers committed "to further intensifying polio eradication activities with the goal of ending transmission by the end of 2005."

With African children now making up 85 percent of the world's poliomyelitis cases after groups in Nigeria forced suspension of an inoculation campaign, the eight African Health Ministers pledged today to plan massive immunisation campaigns against the paralysing disease and to increase surveillance, the UN's health agency said today.

Cases in Africa now number 1,037, according to the WHO, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and other organisations that convened the meeting in Geneva. The meeting also marked the first anniversary of the Geneva pledge to eradicate the disease from the world. The 16-year Global Polio Eradication Initiative has reduced the incidence of polio across the world by 99 percent since 1988.

To implement their pledge the African Minister said they would conduct at least five rounds of national immunisation campaigns for children in every part of their countries. This year's eradication strategy for Africa had called for immunisation campaigns in 25 countries.

The Heads of State and government at the African Union (AU) summit in Abuja later this month were expected to endorse the pledge. African state leaders there will agree on an action plan and on how to increase independent monitoring of immunisation activities to ensure quality coverage.

The number of polio cases in Africa doubled since some groups in northern Nigeria - in particular in Kano state - claimed in August 2003 that the vaccine being used would render girls infertile or even spread AIDS. Last year, all Nigerian states agreed to accept the vaccine and immunisation campaigns have since that been carried out.

Although the area resumed an anti-polio policy in July 2004, using vaccine from Indonesia, the virus was shown by genetic tests to have spread into countries with low immunisation because of civil wars, such as Côte d'Ivoire and Sudan, and to their neighbours: Burkina Faso, Central African Republic and Chad.

Côte d'Ivoire and Sudan, as well as Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic and Chad now have re-established poliovirus transmission, meaning the virus has been circulating among the population for more than six months. Representatives of each of these countries attended the meeting in Geneva, together with Egypt, Nigeria and Niger.

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