Rotary, partners respond to polio outbreak in Africa
A child in Sudan receives oral polio vaccine. Photo courtesy of World Health Organization
A recent wild poliovirus outbreak in southern Sudan has spread into parts of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda.
In response, Rotary is providing a total of US$500,000 in emergency grants to UNICEF and the World Health Organization for immediate immunization efforts in the Horn of Africa.
In January, The Rotary Foundation Trustees approved $2.2 million in PolioPlus grants to support immunization activities there.
The outbreak requires urgent action by governments and partner agencies to make the region polio-free, health officials say. The emergency response is aimed at reducing the threat of the virus spreading to other polio-free countries, a process called importation. The emergency grants will support immunization activities in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda through May. Immunization rounds are also continuing in southern Sudan in an effort to halt the source of the outbreak.
"Polio importations highlight our global vulnerability to infectious disease, particularly where routine immunization is low and vulnerable children are missed," said Carol Pandak, manager of PolioPlus.
The government of southern Sudan has launched a polio eradication action plan, including the formation of an Inter-Ministerial Coordination Committee, which is placing full responsibility and accountability for the outbreak response on state and district governments. President Salva Kiir Mayardit has issued a directive to all 10 state governors, requesting that they secure the support of nongovernmental organizations and traditional and religious leaders for the effort.
Dr. Hussein Gezairy, director of WHO's Eastern Mediterranean region, commended the government of southern Sudan "for putting in place these important new measures to address this dangerous spread of disease. It is precisely this leadership which will help ensure the outbreak is rapidly stopped and will prevent further international spread. No child in southern Sudan need ever again know the pain of life-long polio paralysis."
The persistent outbreak in southern Sudan threatens the progress made by polio-free countries in eliminating the wild virus and preventing importations. Although outbreaks sometimes occur during eradication efforts, they do not lessen the feasibility of the eradication initiative. Outbreaks do, however, highlight the critical need to stop polio transmission in the remaining polio-endemic countries, such as Nigeria and India, which have exported the poliovirus to other nations in recent years, health officials say. The only other endemic countries are Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Large-scale outbreak response is now underway across the Horn of Africa, including Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, and northern Sudan. An immunization campaign was held in southern Sudan 27-29 April, targeting more than 2.9 million children under age five. The next campaign is scheduled for 26-28 May.
"Experience shows that where polio transmission has been stopped before, it can be stopped again," said Pandak. "A fast, large-scale, and high-quality immunization response and strong surveillance are absolutely critical to prevent the virus taking hold in the longer term."