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UN To Vaccinate 80 Million Africans Against Polio

UN Agencies Welcome Campaign To Vaccinate 80 Million Africans Against Polio

At least 80 million children across 23 countries in sub-Saharan Africa will be immunized against polio over the next two years - the largest single public health campaign in history - in an attempt to protect the continent's children from the threat of a looming epidemic of the disease, United Nations agencies report.

Starting Friday, vaccination teams will travel by car, on foot and by boat to cities, towns and villages to try to immunize every single child under the age of five against polio, which once paralyzed hundreds of thousands of children around the world.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative - which includes the two agencies - welcomed the move, which has been organized partly through the African Union (AU).

The campaign has been introduced to combat the recent upsurge in polio across Africa. In the past 18 months, cases have been confirmed in 12 countries after being previously confined to only Nigeria and Niger.

The fresh outbreaks began after regular immunization programmes in northern Nigeria were suspended because local community and religious leaders held concerns - proven to be entirely unfounded - about the safety of the vaccine. Those programmes have now resumed.

Under this campaign, vaccinations will begin on Friday, with a second phase due to start in mid-November and more activities planned for next year.

Speaking after Saturday's launch of the campaign in Nigeria, WHO's Regional Director for Africa, Dr. E. M. Samba, said "the leadership and the support of the AU for polio eradication efforts are a sure sign of the commitment needed to end polio."

The participating States are Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Republic of the Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria, Niger, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo and Sudan.

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