Benin has suspended indefinitely a polio vaccination campaign because of a health workers’ strike, as polio re-emerges in several West African countries.
The vaccination drive, due to start on 29 May, is part of a sweeping campaign across the region.
“It is the strike that has pushed the government to postpone indefinitely the [immunisation] campaign,” said a Health Ministry official who requested anonymity.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and other health agencies and NGOs are vaccinating children across West Africa, where 62 cases of wild poliovirus have been confirmed in seven previously polio-free countries, as a 2008 outbreak originating in Nigeria moves westwards, according to a 28 May joint statement by WHO, the UN Children's Fund and Rotary International.
Given new infections across West Africa in recent months, thousands of children are threatened with life-long paralysis, the communiqué says. The current campaign is targeting 74 million children in the region.
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“It’s quite critical that the vaccinations take place sooner rather than later,” Oliver Rosenbauer, spokesperson for WHO's polio eradication group, told IRIN. “Benin is one of the countries that has had breakthrough transmission – that is, [new] cases have been reported since the February-March immunization campaign.”
The joint communiqué says: “The campaign launched this week is considered critically important. The approaching rainy season will complicate reaching all children, and will intensify circulation of the poliovirus in the environment.”
The Benin Health Ministry official told IRIN the ministry does not want to take any chances. “Health personnel are trained and ready, but given the strike we could not take the risk of launching the campaign; everything must be in place and there must not be disruptions.”
Members of the health workers’ union held a sit-in at the Health Ministry on 27 May and many participated in a march by members of the political opposition in the commercial capital, Cotonou, the following day.
One health worker who gave his name as Maxime T. told IRIN on 29 May: “We will wait for all of our demands to be met for every last health worker before resuming work…[The government] has not taken us seriously. Enough is enough.”
The synchronised campaign is the third this year, after drives in February and March. In Benin, Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire, infections have been confirmed since the March vaccination drive.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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