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WHO readies polio vaccine effort in Africa

Associated Press / October 27, 2010

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KAMPALA, Uganda — The World Health Organization yesterday announced a mass polio vaccination campaign in Africa, the same day Ugandan health officials announced an outbreak of the highly infectious disease.

WHO officials in Geneva said the 15-country campaign would start as early as next week in Angola and Congo, neighboring central African nations that together have more than 50 cases. The bulk of the volunteer-staffed campaign will focus on West Africa, where Nigeria, the most populous nation in sub-Saharan Africa, has never managed to eradicate the disease.

Stephen Malinga, Ugandan health minister, said yesterday that a 2-year-old boy was first diagnosed last week and four other children in the same neighborhood tested positive. Uganda, which was declared polio-free in 2009, is not part of the mass vaccination campaign.

Oral vaccines will also be given in Chad and Sudan, two neighboring nations that also struggle with polio.

The $42.6 million, donor-financed vaccination campaign aims to reach 72 million children in 15 countries. The campaign is a joint effort between WHO, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USAID, Rotary International, UNICEF, and the governments of Germany and Japan.

Dr. Luis G. Sambo, WHO’s African regional director, cited the success of a previous campaign in 2009 and earlier this year that slashed outbreaks in Nigeria by 98 percent and slowed them to a trickle elsewhere in West Africa.

“In Africa we are seeing the essential government support that can make the difference between success and failure,’’ he said.

“But much more remains to be done to fill the gaps if we are to protect the stunning gains made this year.’’

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