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The BBC's Steven Gibbs reports
"The disease does maintain a grip in Western and Central Africa"
 real 28k

Saturday, 18 November, 2000, 23:29 GMT
UN launches polio blitz
Oral polio vaccine
Oral polio vaccine should help eradicate the disease
The United Nations has begun an intensive 10-day campaign against polio in Africa which is intended to immunise 70 million children in 19 countries.

The disease usually affects children under five, causing paralysis and sometimes death.

The campaign is part of a programme by UN agencies to eradicate polio worldwide by 2005.

Angolan child being immunised
UN staff plan to immunise every five-year-old they find

The first round of the current campaign took place in October, with mostly West African countries targeted.

Just over 10 years ago it was estimated that polio was infecting 1,000 children worldwide daily.

Immunisation has reduced that figure dramatically.

But the disease continues to thrive in western and central Africa.

Safe passage

Conflicts in the region and widespread migration have prevented thorough immunisation programmes in the past.

But this time the UN believes that it has secured safe passage for its teams.

Targeted countries
Benin
Burkina Faso
Cameroon
Cape Verde
Central African Republic
Chad
Gambia
Ghana
Guinea
Guinea-Bissau
Ivory Coast
Liberia
Mali
Mauritania
Niger
Nigeria
Senegal
Sierra Leone
Togo
UN staff will go from house to house placing two drops of the vaccine in the mouth of every child under five they find.

The polio virus is vulnerable to eradication because it has no natural home outside the human body.

Health experts believe that if 80% of people in infected populations are vaccinated, that will be enough to break its chain of transmission.

The current campaign aims to completely halt wild poliovirus transmission within two years.

Signs in recent years have been encouraging - only 1,149 cases have been registered this year compared with 7,000 last year.

Just 12 years ago there were at least 350,000 cases.

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See also:

29 Oct 00 | Health
Polio milestone passed
20 Oct 00 | Health
How vaccines are made
20 Oct 00 | Health
Polio vaccine in BSE scare
03 Feb 00 | Health
Polio vaccine could backfire
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