(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Government launches nationwide anti-polio drive

The government of the Central African Republic launched on Monday a nationwide anti-polio immunisation campaign aimed at reaching at least 650,000 children aged under five years.

"I urge the public to make use of this chance and present all their children for vaccination, including those who have already received their doses," Nestor Nali, the minister for health, said during the launch at the Bangui Paediatric Hospital.

He said booklets on the doses and vaccination were being provided free of charge during the immunisation campaign comprising two phases, the first being from Monday to Wednesday and the second from 3 to 5 December.

The 2003 anti-polio campaign is supported by Rotary Club International, a humanitarian charity which financed ground operations; the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which provided vaccines; the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which distributed 10 vaccine storage freezers to hospitals in war-affected areas; and the UN World Health Organisation (WHO).

The war between government troops and rebels, fought mainly in the north between October 2002 and March 2003, paralysed health activities. As a result, the 2002 nationwide anti-polio campaign failed to take place.

While populations in the north fled their homes to escape the fighting and hospitals were looted, health facilities in the east were not supplied with drugs and vaccines as they were cut off from Bangui, the capital.

Despite the impact of the war on health activities, the WHO in the CAR has remained optimistic that the limb-paralysing disease would be eradicated in the country by 2005.

"The last case of polio was detected in the CAR in 2000," Dr. Inusse Noor Mohamed, the acting WHO representative, said.

He added that to achieve the 2005 goal, WHO was advocating the reinforcement of epidemiological surveillance across the country.

A paediatrician and an expert in charge of polio surveillance, Dr. Sepou Yanza, told IRIN on Monday that whenever cases of limb paralysis were detected in any health facility, the information was sent to the team of polio surveillance experts.

"None of the cases [reported] lately were due to the polio virus but were caused by other diseases," Yanza said.

Inusse said that Nigeria, the worst polio affected nation in the world, remained a threat to the central African region. He added that 10 cases similar to those detected in Nigeria were recorded in October in southern Chad near the CAR and Cameroonian borders, prompting Chadian health officials to vaccinate all children in the region between 11 and 15 November and between 6-10 December. There are 41,000 CAR refugees in southern Chad.

"This campaign would be a success only if we could reach at least 90 percent of [the targeted] children," Philippe Ankany, the acting UNICEF representative, said during the launch.

He added that the return of peace and security had allowed holding of this year’s anti-polio campaign.

The campaign takes place a month after routine immunisation resumed in most hospitals and health facilities in the north.

ICRC's donation of the 10 freezers and some taken from areas unaffected by the war, to war affected zones contributed to the resumption of routine immunisation and of the anti-polio campaigns.

An Italian humanitarian NGO operating in the north, Cooperazione Internazionale, has announced that it expects additional freezers in days to come.

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