Rotary responds to polio outbreak in Congo Republic
A child receives oral polio vaccine during a National Immunization Day in Nigeria. The perseverance that has reduced the incidence of polio in Nigeria by 97 percent is also being applied to the current outbreak in the Congo Republic. Photo courtesy of WHO
Rotary International and its partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative -- the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- are responding to a recent outbreak of wild poliovirus in the Republic of the Congo. Rotary is providing a total of US$500,000 in emergency grants to WHO and UNICEF for immediate polio immunization efforts throughout the country.
At least 97 people have died in the outbreak, with 226 cases of acute flaccid paralysis reported as of 9 November. Most of the cases involve young people between ages 15 and 29. To date, four of the AFP cases have been confirmed as polio.
The outbreak is due to imported poliovirus that is related to the virus circulating in Angola. The Congo Republic recorded its last case of indigenous polio in 2000, and urgent action is required by government and partner agencies to again make the country polio-free.
"Polio outbreaks highlight our global vulnerability to infectious disease," says Dr. Robert Scott, chair of Rotary’s International PolioPlus Committee. "It reinforces the fact that polio 'control' is not an option, and only successful eradication will stop the disease."
According to WHO, at least three national vaccination campaigns are planned to combat the outbreak, with the first targeting three million people of all ages in the Congo Republic and parts of neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola on 12 November and 18-22 November. Subsequent campaigns are planned for 3-7 December and 26-30 December.
"Every man, every woman, every child will be immunized irrespective of their past immunization status," says Dr. Luis Sambo, WHO regional director for Africa. "This way we can be assured that everybody is reached, including young adults, whose immunity may be low."
Outbreaks of imported polio cases are not uncommon during eradication efforts, underscoring the critical need to stop transmission of the virus in the remaining polio-endemic countries: Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan.
"Our experience shows that where polio transmission has been stopped before, it can be stopped again," Scott says. "A fast, large-scale, high-quality immunization response using the new tools at hand, along with strong surveillance, is absolutely critical."
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