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Early gains in Africas biggest
ever attack on polio
IN the largest synchronized peacetime operation the
region has ever seen, 17 countries in West and Central Africa have
begun a campaign to immunize 70 million children against polio.
With the second round due to start in late November, the early results
from the first round, conducted during October, indicate that the
campaign has reached a higher proportion of children than any before
"Now countries are really getting up to
the levels where they can interrupt the transmission of the
virus," said Bruce Aylward, coordinator of the Global Polio
Eradication Campaign at WHO in Geneva. "No countries have
ever cooperated on this scale except in times of war, and
that is extremely exciting."
For the first time, many of the countries
involved did house-to-house visits, using hundreds of thousands
of volunteers to immunize children and then mark the houses.
Compared with previous years, the first round has reached
5% to 20% more children than had ever been immunized before.
Political commitment at the highest level
was key to the operations success, said Deo Nshimirimana,
regional coordinator for WHO in Abidjan. "President Konare
of Mali launched the first day and he stayed all morning,
vaccinating the children himself," he said. The campaign went
ahead even in countries disrupted by conflict.
Chalk it up: a volunteer marks
a house in Sokoto, Nigeria, in the first round last month
The organizers also targeted national
borders, where migrants and victims of conflict tend to miss out
on polio immunization. "These synchronized campaigns are an opportunity
for peace-building," said Carl Tinstman, UNICEFs senior advisor
for polio eradication.
Despite the success, there is
still room for improvement, said Nshimirimana. "We still have villages
that were not covered in hard-to-reach areas, and we need to do
more to train some of the volunteers." A third round will follow
early next year in some countries.
The success of a coordinated and
synchronized cross-border campaign could be adapted for other public
health purposes, said Aylward, including malaria control or even
The countries involved are: Benin,
Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Côte dIvoire, Gambia, Ghana,
Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria,
Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo. Key to the effort is Nigeria, the
largest remaining reservoir of endemic polio in the region.
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