Thousands of vaccination teams have traversed the vast Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on foot, by motorbike, boat and car, in a campaign to immunize at least 14 million children against polio, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said.
"No matter where the child lives, we must do our best to reach all boys and girls with the vaccine," said Granga Daouda, head of UNICEF's vaccination programme in DRC.
The campaign, undertaken by the government with UNICEF support over three days from 20 October, was combined with administering Vitamin A supplements and deworming.
Health Minister Victor Makwege, who launched the programme in the capital, Kinshasa, said: "Our goal is to eradicate polio; to vaccinate one's child is a gesture of love."
In a statement, UNICEF said several thousand mobile vaccination teams visited schools and markets, health centres, offices and homes in a door-to-door approach.
Since January, 85 cases of polio have been reported in the DRC, putting the country in the lead of worldwide polio cases. UNICEF said that after being polio-free for several years, the virus re-emerged in the country in 2006, with 13 cases, "followed by 41 cases in 2007, five cases in 2008, a temporary decline with three cases in 2009 and a peak of 100 cases last year. The most affected areas are the capital Kinshasa (33), followed by the provinces of Bas Congo (22), Bandundu (20), Katanga (7) and Kasai Occidental (2)."
A recently released assessment, the Multi Indicator Cluster Survey, conducted by UNICEF and the government, shows that the national routine immunization coverage of children aged between 12 and 23 months has significantly increased over the past decade, from 10 percent in 2001 to 42 percent in 2010.
"Yet progress is mostly limited to middle- and high-income households," UNICEF said. "While close to all children in these groups are fully vaccinated by the time they reach their second anniversary, hardly one in four children from poor families is immunized."
The agency said factors that hampered the eradication of polio include population movements between Angola and DRC, difficulty in accessing remote areas with continued insecurity, a weak epidemiological surveillance system and insufficient national capacity to conduct quality supplementary immunization activities - circumstances that are further amplified by lack of sanitation and hygiene.
"DRC is close to reaching the goal of polio eradication," Steven Lauwerier, UNICEF's deputy representative in the DRC, said. "We have a shared responsibility to act and kick it out, now and for ever."
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