Whole populations to be vaccinated in emergency response to polio outbreak
Young and old to be targeted in parts of 3 central African countries
BRAZZAVILLE, Republic of Congo/DAKAR, Senegal – The first wave of mass polio immunization campaigns -targeting 3 million people of all ages- is to begin on Friday (12 November) to address an unusual outbreak of polio that is primarily claiming victims amongst adults. The campaign will take place in the coastal port city of Pointe Noire and in the Department of Kouilou in the Republic of Congo, 16 districts in the neighbouring province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and over the border in Angola.
This is the first vaccination response to the polio outbreak confirmed on 4 November in the Republic of Congo. Latest figures from 9 November, record a cumulative total of 226 cases of acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) with an unusually high mortality rate of 97 deaths. To date, four of the AFP cases have been confirmed as polio.
Most of the cases have involved young adults aged between 15 and 29. This illustrates that populations are at risk because they have not been exposed to a full immunisation. The giving of vaccination to all ages is intended to raise the general level of immunity to stop the spread of the disease.
“Every man, every woman, every child will be immunized irrespective of their past immunization status,” says WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Luis Sambo. “This way we can be assured that everybody is reached, including young adults, whose immunity may be low.”
The first case of AFP was reported to a hospital in Pointe Noire on 1 October. Most of the cases - 159 - were reported between 11 and 31 October, with a peak of 73 cases between 18 and 24 October.
“The Government has a good assessment of the situation; it is worrying. Partners and resources are being mobilized to implement an appropriate response and to ensure a good take-up by the population ”, said the Minister of Health and Population of the Republic of Congo, Prof. Georges Moyen.
UNICEF’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Dr Gianfranco Rotigliano added: “We have to stem this fast-moving outbreak. The overriding priority is to vaccinate all people to prevent more cases and deaths as quickly as possible. We are at a critical juncture and stopping polio in Africa requires our absolute commitment”.
To date, health partners including WHO, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF, have secured some USD4.8 million, 1.7 million doses of oral polio vaccines (OPV), and deployed a multidisciplinary team of experts to support investigation of the outbreak, field activities and operational costs. Another 5 million doses of OPV from Copenhagen, Denmark, should arrive in Congo on 12 November.
“Rotary has mobilized emergency funding to respond to this outbreak,” said the Chair of Rotary’s Africa PolioPlus Committee, Ambroise Tshimbalanga Kasongo. “With a quick response, we can stop the disease from further spread.”
Plans are underway to cover the rest of the population of the Republic of Congo from 18 to 22 November and follow this by two more nationwide rounds from 03 to 07 and 26 to 30 December. Parts of the DRC and Angola will also be covered during these rounds.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) is spearheaded by national governments, WHO, Rotary International, the US Center for Disease Control and UNICEF.
Since the launch of the GPEI in 1988, the incidence of polio has been reduced by more than 99%. In 1988, more than 350,000 children were paralysed each year in more than 125 endemic countries. In 2010, 767 cases have been reported as at 10 November 2010) in 19 countries. Only four countries remain endemic: India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) continues to face a
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