UNICEF to immunise 116 million children in Africa against polio

As part of efforts to wipe out polio in Africa, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), says at least 116 million children will be immunised from coast to coast across the continent next week, as regional emergency outbreak response intensifies.

The exercise according to UNICEF, will be conducted by more than 190 000 polio vaccinators in 13 countries across west and central Africa, thereby making it one of the largest simultaneous immunisations ever conducted in the African continent.

A statement by Doune Porter, Chief of Communication, UNICEF, said the synchronised vaccination exercise, tagged: “From coast to coast” is part of urgent measures to permanently stop polio on the continent and is one of the largest of its kind ever implemented in Africa.

According to UNICEF, under the coast to coast programme, all children under five years of age in Benin, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Sierra Leone would be simultaneously immunized in a coordinated effort to raise childhood immunity to polio across the continent.

The statement noted that the exercise had become imperative following the recent outbreak of the disease in Borno State, Nigeria, in August 2016 in which four children were paralysed by the disease.

Borno has been widely considered to be the only place on the continent where the virus maintains its grip owing to the high level of insecurity there which was occasioned by the activities of the Boko Haram sect .

World Health Organisation (WHO)’s Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, in the statement, said “20 years ago, Nelson Mandela launched the pan-African Kick Polio Out of Africa campaign. “At that time, every single country on the continent was endemic to polio, and every year, more than 75 000 children were paralysed for life by this terrible disease. Thanks to the dedication of governments, communities, parents and health workers, this disease is now beaten back to this final reservoir.”

Moeti cautioned, however, that progress was fragile, given the epidemic-prone nature of the virus, more so that experts had warned that the virus could easily spread to under-protected areas of neighbouring countries

Commenting on the initiative,UNICE’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Marie-Pierre Poirier,
stated that with the strong commitment of Africa’s leaders, there was confidence that this last remaining polio reservoir could be wiped out.

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