/ 11 November 2010

Polio kills 97 in Congo; mass immunisations planned

The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) is poised to launch a mass polio immunisation campaign in the Republic of Congo, after an outbreak of the disease claimed at least 97 lives in just under a week, the agency said Thursday.

It has recorded a total 226 cases of acute flaccid paralysis — one of the main symptoms of polio — in the Central African country, mostly affecting young adults between 15 and 29-years-old.

Minister of Health Georges Moyen spoke of a “worrying” situation.

With help from the World Health Organisation (WHO), Unicef plans to vaccinate 3-million people during the first immunisation wave.

“Every man, every woman, every child will be immunised irrespective of their past immunisation status,” WHO regional director Luis Sambo said in a statement. “This way, we can be assured that everybody is reached.”

“We have to stem this fast-moving outbreak,” Gianfranco Rotigliano, Unicef’s regional director for West and Central Africa, added. “We are at a critical juncture and stopping polio in Africa requires our absolute commitment.”

The vaccinations will initially target the coastal city of Pointe Noire and the department of Kouilou, where the outbreak was first recorded and has claimed the most victims.

Unicef has secured 1,7-million doses of the oral vaccines, with another 5-million doses to arrive in Congo on Friday from Denmark.

The agency’s goal is to immunise all of Congo’s 4-million inhabitants by the end of the year. Border residents in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola are also to be targeted.

A worldwide initiative has been working on eradicating polio through vaccination since 1988. That year, more than 350 000 children in 125 countries were being paralyzed by the disease. In , Seven hundred and sixty seven cases have been reported in 19 countries for 2010 so far. — Sapa-dpa