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Polio Immunization Drive Combats Outbreak

Polio Immunization Drive Combats Outbreak

With the number of suspected polio cases in Namibia surpassing 100, with more than a dozen fatalities, a massive United Nations-backed campaign to immunize the entire population of some 1.8 million against the often paralyzing and sometimes fatal disease entered its second day today.

All over the country the stamina and generosity demanded by the three-day campaign were evident at immunization posts, health clinics, schools, crèches, homes, farms and factories, the UN Children’s Fund (<"http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/namibia_34654.html">UNICEF) reported. Namibians have come out in record numbers on this first round of the campaign, and health workers and volunteers outdid themselves in response, the agency said.

While the 2.5 million doses UNICEF bought for the first round of the campaign are more than enough, there is always the problem of vaccine wastage – not all the vaccine in a vial being used or too many vials opened and unused.

Of the 109 suspected cases, 13 have so far been confirmed. Experience in outbreak response has shown that quick and repeated vaccination campaigns reaching the target population are highly effective. With such intervention, most outbreaks are stopped within 6 to 12 months.

Data gathered so far suggests that the affected adults had not been immunized, or were under-immunized. Since the virus mostly affects young children, vaccination campaigns typically target those under the age of five rather than a country’s entire population.

The origin of the outbreak has not yet been determined. But according to the UN World Health Organization (WHO), the virus may have come from neighbouring Angola, which reported its most recent case in November. As long as the virus circulates anywhere, all countries face a risk of importing it.

Worldwide incidence of the disease has been cut by 99 per cent since 1988 thanks to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative spearheaded by national governments, Rotary International, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), WHO and UNICEF, with a coalition that includes non-governmental organizations (NGOs), corporations, foundations and development banks.

But the initiative faces a funding gap of $85 million for this year and a further $400 million for 2007 and 2008.

Ends

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