WHO Launches Massive Polio Eradication Campaign

28/10/2010 - The WHO, in partnership with a number of governments, UN agencies and private donors, has launched a massive campaign to vaccinate 72 million African children against polio.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has launched a massive polio vaccination campaign in fifteen African countries. The countries to benefit from the WHO’s campaign include Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Sudan.

Polio (Poliomyelitis) is a contagious viral disease. It is spread from person to person, generally through the accidental ingestion of fecal matter through contaminated food or water. Children most vulnerable to the disease are usually younger the five years old. Most people (90%) have no symptoms or mild symptoms and unknowingly pass the disease on from person to person. 

However, one in 200 people infected will develop paralysis, usually in the legs. The virus causes paralysis by replicating and attacking the body’s nervous system in the muscles. This causes muscles to become weak, wasted and nonfunctional—a condition known as acute flaccid paralysis. Of those paralyzed, 5-10% will die when their breathing muscles eventually become immobilized.

The campaign will target 72 million children using 290,000 health workers to give the vaccines out. These health workers will go door-to-door in high-risk areas and give two drops of the orally-administered vaccine to every child under five years old.

Roughly $42.6 million in funding for the campaign has been contributed by governments, United Nations (UN) agencies and private charitable donors. Among the most prominent are Germany, Japan, United States, UN Children’s Fund, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Rotary International. Mr. Ted Turner, founder of the news network CNN, has also made headlines in recent days for committing at least $80 million to future polio eradication initiatives in Nigeria.

Nigeria is the only country in which polio is endemic.  The country has had great success in tackling polio, reducing its rate of infection by 98%. West Africa has also made much progress, with only Liberia and Mali recording any cases of polio within the last five months.

Last week, Nigeria vaccinated 30 million children in 20 high-risk regions. The WHO's campaign kicked off yesterday in Cote d’Ivoire. Angola and Chad will begin vaccination activities tomorrow, while Sudan will begin on November 1. All other countries kicked off their campaigns today.