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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 January, 2005, 11:26 GMT
African nations tackle polio rise
A Sudanese Red Crescent employee vaccinates a boy against polio in a refugee camp in Darfur
The UN hopes to eradicate the polio virus around the world
Health ministers from eight African countries are to meet United Nations health experts to discuss how to finally eradicate polio.

The UN says the number of polio cases in Africa increased last year, and the virus has spread to five new countries.

Officials blame the upsurge largely on the controversial decision by some authorities in northern Nigeria to suspend immunisation for 11 months.

The disease has now spread across the continent as far east as Sudan.

In 2004, the number of worldwide cases reached 1,185 - more than 1,000 of them in Africa - compared with 784 in 2003, the UN's health agency said.

Despite the setbacks, the World Health Organization (WHO) believes transmission of the virus can be stopped by the end of 2005, as part of its Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

Resurgence

This time last year polio was endemic in just six countries: India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Niger and Egypt.

Asia has cut its cases in half in one year, but the number of cases has risen in Africa, despite a vaccination campaign that reached 400 million children.

Just nine months ago there were no cases in Sudan, but the latest figures show that 112 children have been infected.

Map of African countries affected by polio

The situation is now so serious that a special meeting has been called at the WHO headquarters in Geneva.

It will concentrate solely on the spread of the virus across the continent, with health ministers from Nigeria, Niger, Egypt, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Central African Republic, Sudan, and Chad due to attend.

Earlier opposition to the vaccine in the northern Kano region of Nigeria is blamed for the resurgence.

After a ban in Kano, immunisation efforts resumed there in July but only reached 60% of children.

Polio, which is caused by a virus contracted through contaminated drinking water, attacks the central nervous system and can result in paralysis or death.

When the WHO launched its anti-polio campaign in 1988, the worldwide case count was more than 350,000.



SEE ALSO:
UN launches key anti-polio push
08 Oct 04 |  Africa
Africa 'faces new polio threat'
24 Aug 04 |  Health


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