Synchronized polio campaign kicks off across eight countries in West Africa

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Fifty-three million children under five are expected to be reached across eight West African countries in a coordinated polio immunization campaign that launched today.

The synchronized cross-border initiative will take place in eight countries simultaneously: Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Togo, and Nigeria.

The goal of the campaign is to reach every child, even in the most remote rural areas or in the most populated urban areas. More than 162,000 trained immunizers (67,000 for Nigeria alone) will aim to reach every child with a polio vaccine. A total of 66 million doses of vaccine (33 million for Nigeria alone) are available for each round of the campaign.

The campaign is scheduled in two rounds: 27 February to 2 March, and 27 to 30 March 2009. (In Ghana, the first round took place from 12 to 14 February.) During each of the rounds, teams will go door-to-door while others will be in schools and health centers.

Outreach activities leading up to the campaign include the involvement of local authorities, traditional and religious leaders; interpersonal communication at the community level by social workers and volunteers; community mobilization; and the broadcast of TV and radio spots.

In 2008, a polio outbreak in northern Nigeria spread to six countries in West Africa. The wild polio virus had already re-infected Niger in 2007, as well as Chad and Cameroun in Central Africa. The campaign aims at reaching a critical mass of polio immunization coverage in order to stop the spread of the wild polio virus. The highest priority is to reach every child in Nigeria and in the high-risk areas across the region (districts where cases where reported in re-infected countries, districts with low routine immunization coverage and districts where new case surveillance is weak).

The key to stopping polio in its tracks is comprehensive and coordinated vaccination campaigns and cross-border planning. Undertaking the campaign simultaneously in eight countries reduces the risk of missing children, particularly in a context where there are likely to be large movements of populations.

The campaign mobilizes the teams of the health ministries of all the countries, supported by UNICEF, WHO, Rotary International and other partners as well as volunteers, traditional and religious chiefs and the media, and is being organized as part of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. The total cost of the campaign is $29 million for the seven countries, with an additional $38 million for Nigeria. This amount includes the cost of the vaccine, operational costs, social mobilization and surveillance.

About the Global Polio Eradication Initiative
This campaign is part of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, a partnership spearheaded by WHO, Rotary International, the US Center for Diseases Control and Prevention and UNICEF. The polio eradication coalition includes governments of countries affected by polio; private sector foundations (United Nations Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation); development banks (World Bank); bilateral donor governments; the European Commission; the International Red Cross and Red Crescent societies and nongovernmental organizations as well as corporate partners (Sanofi Pasteur, De Beers and Wyeth). Volunteers in developing countries also play a key role. For more information go to

About polio
Poliomyelitis (polio) is a highly infectious viral disease, which mainly affects children under five. The virus attacks the nervous system and is transmitted through contaminated food, water and feces. One in two-hundred infections leads to irreversible paralysis, usually in the legs. Among those paralyzed, 5 per cent to 10 per cent die when their breathing muscles become immobilized. Polio cannot be cured and can only be prevented by immunization. WHO recommends that infants receive three doses of oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV) in the first year of life.

Today, only four countries in the world-- Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan--remain polio-endemic, down from more than 125 in 1988. In 2008, 803 cases of wild polio virus were reported in Nigeria and a total of 41 cases of imported wild polio virus were reported in Benin (6), Burkina Faso (6), Côte d'Ivoire (1), Ghana (8), Mali (1), Niger (13) and Togo (3). All imported cases are type 1 polio virus, except one case in Benin that was type 3 polio virus.

As of 13 February, 26 cases of wild polio virus have been reported in West Africa - Nigeria (25) and Niger (1).