Some 53 million children under the age of five, including every girl and boy in Nigeria, have been targeted by a mass polio immunization campaign across West Africa, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced today.
The door-to-door polio eradication drive is planned to sweep through eight countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Togo, and Nigeria, aiming to reach every child even in the remotest of areas.
The campaign, employing 162,000 trained immunizers, will attempt to stop last year’s outbreak which hit northern Nigeria and spread to six countries in West Africa after the wild polio virus had already re-infected Niger in 2007, as well as Chad and Cameroon in Central Africa.
“The highest priority was to reach every child in Nigeria, which was one of the four endemic countries, and in the high-risk areas across the region,” said Miranda Eeles, a spokesperson for UNICEF.
The total cost of the campaign is $29 million for the seven countries, with an additional $38 million for Nigeria, including the cost of the vaccine, operational costs, social mobilization and surveillance.
The campaign, which kicked off today and started earlier this month in Ghana, involves the health ministries of all the countries, as well as support from UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and Rotary International, among others. It is being organized as part of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
Contracted through contaminated food, water and feces, polio is a highly infectious and incurable viral disease, which mainly affects children under five, attacking the nervous system. One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis, usually in the legs, and among those paralyzed, five to 10 per cent die when their respiratory muscles become immobilized.
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