Immunization campaigns move ahead in Congo Republic
Denis Sassou Nguesso, president of the Republic of the Congo, receives oral polio vaccine to demonstrate his support for National Immunization Days in November and the drive to end the disease in his country. The nation’s top ministers were also immunized. Photo courtesy of Dr. Youssouf Gamatié
Rotarians in the Republic of the Congo are stepping up their efforts to help stop the recent outbreak of wild poliovirus in their country.
The national PolioPlus committee has produced more than US$100,000 worth of posters, pamphlets, banners, T-shirts, and other materials to help mobilize public support for eradicating the disease.
At least 179 people have died in the outbreak, with 476 cases of acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) reported as of 7 December. Most of the cases involve young people between ages 15 and 29 and have occurred in the city of Pointe-Noire. To date, 12 of the AFP cases have been confirmed as polio.
Georges Moyen, the nation’s health minister, says the Rotarians’ support was well targeted and timely. “All you have offered, Pointe-Noire has lacked,” he says. “The weakness is a lack of social mobilization.”
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 strategically to the outbreak. Rotary has provided a total of $500,000 in emergency grants to WHO and UNICEF for immediate polio immunization efforts throughout the country.
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."
The Congo Republic carried out National Immunization Days (NIDs) in November and early December, and NIDs are scheduled again for 11 January.
"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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