- Polio is again threatening to spread to the Horn of Africa after it was almost eradicated a few year ago. The current polio outbreak in Sudan, which again originated in northern Nigeria, is now about to cross the border into Ethiopia, health workers are warning. "Urgent aid" was needed.
Ethiopian children "urgently need protection" from Sudan's polio outbreak, the UN agencies for public health and children said today in appealing for nearly US$ 5 million for an immunisation campaign against the paralysing disease in April and May.
A polio outbreak in Sudan had paralysed 132 Sudanese children since last May. Late last month, the World Health Organisation (WHO) found the same genetic variant in two cases in Ethiopia, WHO and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said today.
The UN two agencies said they planned to inoculate 14.7 million Ethiopian children younger than 5 in an upcoming campaign, as part of their 18-year effort to eradicate the disease globally by the end of the year.
Ethiopia has been polio-free since 2001. The deadly virus however has slowly spread from northern Nigeria and into Sudan during the last years after local authorities in Nigeria had halted polio vaccination programmes due to superstitions. Since that, polio eradication efforts in many African countries had to restart from scratch.
The last half year has seen massive immunisation campaigns in Sudan, defying the many local wars fought in the vast country. UNICEF and WHO now hope to have the outbreak in Sudan under control, although several new immunisation campaigns are planned in the country.
Another response to the Sudanese outbreak was to immunise children in Ethiopia's Tigray area and the districts at highest risk in the first week of March and to deploy 100,000 health workers and trained volunteers door to door to administer the oral vaccine on National Immunization Days in the second week of April and the first week in May, the UN agencies said.
If the Sudanese polio outbreak gets a foothold in Ethiopia, the whole Horn of Africa region may be under threat, health officials fear. Immunisation campaigns in countries like Somalia - which is currently polio free - would be close to impossible to organise.
From Ethiopia and Somalia, the distance to heavily populated East Africa is also short. Health workers also hope to be able to hinder the spread of the polio virus from southern Sudan to the neighbouring Great Lakes region. Here, the unstable Sudanese-Ugandan border remains a high risk factor.
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