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Anti-polio campaign in western Africa

March 24, 2017

Polio eradication teams are preparing to vaccinate 116 million children in western and central African nations, especially Nigeria. The virus, which can paralyze victims, was stamped out in India in 2014.

Nigeria | Polio-Impfung in Maidguri
Image: DW/T. Mösch

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) said Friday its teams were aiming to reach every child under five in 13 countries from Mauritania to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The campaign was prompted by the World Health Organization's (WHO) identification last August of polio outbreaks in northeastern Nigeria- two years after the scourge appeared beaten in Africa.

The area has seen mass displacement and societal breakdown caused by fighting between the jihadi group Boko Haram and the Nigerian army.

"We are hoping for at least 90 percent coverage - but we will vaccinate as many as possible to ensure that the virus cannot circulate in any given community," said GPEI Director Michel Zaffran.

Some 190,000 vaccinators would travel house-to-house and visit trains and bus stations and border posts across 13 countries, carrying the vaccines in ice-filled bags to ensure they do not spoil.

Rotary International, which is part of GPEI, is also supporting the campaign.

The virus, if not stopped, invades a person's nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysiswithin hours.

It spreads rapidly, especially in unsanitary conditions.

Polio remains endemic in Pakistan and Afghanistan but in most countries worldwide cases have been reduced 99.9 percent since the eradication campaign began in 1988.

Experts have said that ridding the world of the last 0.1 percent of polio has been far tougher than expected. Nigeria reported four cases last August.

ipj/sms (AFP, Reuters)