Millions of Children in Central Africa Vaccinated Against Polio

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WHO recommends that children receive four oral polio vaccine doses by the age of one, as part of basic immunization coverage. Its main strategy for providing vaccination services has been to organize nationwide National Immunization Days.

During these campaigns, all children up to five years old are given two to three doses of the oral polio vaccine one month apart, regardless of their prior immunization status. To effectively halt transmission of the disease, a participating country must implement the immunization program for at least three consecutive years.

Because of the high polio risk in Central Africa, WHO expanded the scope of the immunization program to synchronize vaccination efforts in the four countries—a major task of coordination.

President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the United Nations, both appealed for warring factions in the four countries to lay down their arms to allow health-care workers safe passage. Mohammed Jalloh, a spokesperson for UNICEF, said early reports indicate that, for the most part, groups engaged in conflict observed the so-called "days of tranquility."

To administer the next doses of the oral polio vaccine, WHO is coordinating synchronized follow-up days of national immunizations, scheduled for August 9 to 13 and September 13 to 17.

"The same 16 million children will be targeted for polio immunization, with the additional administration of Vitamin A in the second round," said Drake. Vitamin A is known to lower childhood mortality and prevent blindness.

While much progress has been made, the battle is not yet won.

"Just recently, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative announced that the eradication of polio is 99 percent complete," said Vivian Fiore, a spokesperson for Rotary International, which is one of the major sponsors of the initiative.

"In spite of this success, the remaining one percent poses the greatest challenge," she said. "Accessing all children in conflict areas, closing a U.S. $400 million funding gap, and maintaining political commitment in the face of a disappearing disease are the major obstacles that must be overcome."

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is spearheaded by the World Health Organization, the United Nations Childrens Fund, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Rotary International.

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