Africa, largest polio vaccination campaign kicks off in four countries, targeting 21 million children

Africa, largest polio vaccination campaign kicks off in four countries, targeting 21 million children

ROME - The largest polio vaccination campaign since 2020 kicks off in four West and Central African countries in a joint effort by national health authorities to immunize a total of 21 million children under the age of five. The intervention, which began in Cameroon, Chad and Niger and then extended to the Central African Republic from next week, is the response to fourteen poliovirus detections. Positive samples were found in Chad and Niger. Cameroon, a border region, has decided to join the campaign to prevent the spread of the virus.

Prevention. The initiative is supported by theWorld Health Organization (WHO), through the Global Polio Eradication Initiative and includes synchronized vaccinations and joint action plans in border communities to stop transmission of the virus. This is a crucial effort to close the vaccine gap in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and provide millions of children with vital protection from the risk of irreversible paralysis from polio, explains Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. The synchronization of the campaign in the four countries should be able to ensure that a large number of children receive the vaccine at the same time.

"Zero dose" children. The Lake Chad region, which includes three of the four countries poised to launch immunization campaigns, is grappling with one of the most protracted episodes of gun violence in the world. It is also home to one of the highest percentages globally of so-called "zero dose" children, meaning children who have never been vaccinated.

Stop polio. All four countries have made enormous efforts over the years to step up polio detection, curb the spread of the virus, and protect young ones from the risk of infection and permanent paralysis. But despite the scrutiny, the poliovirus type 2 variant, which is the most prevalent form of polio, continues to swirl and strike. Immunization is carried out door to door and this represents a great advantage for families who do not have to take their children to medical facilities. Health workers, with the support of the WHO, are in fact administering the vaccine in homes, religious centres, markets and schools.

Raising awareness. Religious leaders are doing their part: they are committed to raising awareness of the risks of poliomyelitis and in general of the danger of not vaccinating one's children to protect them from all the diseases that can be prevented today.

Virus detection. Data is essential for effective disease surveillance and an adequate response to their spread. In the wake of continuing poliovirus outbreaks, Chad, Niger, Cameroon and the Central African Republic have also stepped up surveillance efforts to try to detect cases early. To do this, we rely on geographic information tools such as the Open Data Kit, which serves to speed up the response in the event of an excessive virus outbreak.

The Big Catch up. The Great Recovery: It is a collective effort, supported by various organizations and foundations, to increase the vaccination rate of children in at-risk countries to at least the pre-COVID-19 pandemic level and to strengthen national health systems. In fact, the pandemic has seen the vaccination levels of the youngest decrease in over one hundred countries around the world, where outbreaks of measles, diphtheria, poliomyelitis and yellow fever have arisen: all diseases preventable with immunisation. The Big Catch up sees the joint efforts of WHO, UNICEF, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, along with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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