Massive campaign to stamp out polio once and for all in Africa

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Polio vaccination in South Sudan. UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

One of the largest polio vaccination campaigns ever will be carried out in Africa over the coming week, two UN agencies announced on Friday.

Some 116 million children in 13 countries will be immunized as part of urgent measures to permanently stamp out the disease on the continent.

The announcement was made by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).

Matthew Wells reports.

The synchronized polio campaign will see an army of more than 190,000 vaccinators inoculating all children under the age of five in the 13 countries concerned.

They include Nigeria, where four children in north-eastern Borno state were paralysed by the disease last August.

The area, hard hit by the operations of extremist group Boko Haram, is considered to be the only place in Africa where the polio virus maintains a stronghold.

Michel Zaffran is Director of Polio Eradication with the World Health Organization (WHO):

"The polio campaigns that are starting tomorrow across 13 countries in Western and Central Africa are one of the largest synchronized immunization events in history. This part of the continent is part of a major humanitarian crisis which has been exacerbated by insecurity and conflict in north-eastern Nigeria as well as in the bordering countries of the Lake Chad Basin. The polio outbreak is an emergency within a larger emergency, and the polio teams are working on the ground, and of course at national, regional and global levels, closely coordinating with humanitarian response teams."

The volunteer teams will be working up to 12 hours a day, travelling on foot or bicycle, to deliver oral polio vaccine to children in cities, towns and villages.

As temperatures can soar above 40 degrees Celsius, the vaccines will be transported in special carrier bags to ensure they remain below the required temperature of eight degrees Celsius.

Matthew Wells, United Nations.

Duration: 1’26″

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