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Indonesia Kicks Off Second Round of Nationwide Polio Vaccination Drive


Indonesia has kicked off the latest round of a nationwide polio vaccination drive, aimed at giving 24 million children under the age of five a second dose of vaccine to stop the disease's recent reappearance in the county.

Health workers across the country began vaccinating millions of children in the second round of a campaign against the polio outbreak that has infected more than 250 children since March.

Indonesia has also launched an unprecedented information campaign to explain to the public that the polio vaccine is safe for children. The public relations effort is to counter unfounded rumors that the vaccine caused the deaths of three children during the first round of vaccinations in June.

David Hipgrave, the head of the United Nations Children's Fund's health and nutrition unit, says the general feeling is that Indonesians are better educated about the vaccine drive now.

"There has been reasonably good publicity through the mass media, and we had better cooperation ... and we had better program communication with district governments than we did the first time," he said. "It hasn't been perfect, but I think it has been reasonable."

Indonesia had been free of the polio virus for a decade, until a young boy was stricken this March with the waterborne disease that can lead to paralysis and death.

Indonesia is one of 16 countries reinfected with the polio virus since 2003. In a major setback to the worldwide polio eradication program, Nigeria stopped giving vaccinations in 2003 because of false rumors that the vaccine could cause HIV/AIDS and sterilization. That halt allowed the virus to spread, in Nigeria and abroad.

UNICEF's David Hipgrave says there are signs the polio outbreak is now being contained in Indonesia, but the battle has not been won.

"There are strong suggestions that the outbreak is being contained, but there are still very much-needed activities ... in areas where new cases have been identified, and it is likely that the outbreak will continue until the majority of the kids in those areas have been vaccinated at least twice," said Mr. Hipgrave.

Mr. Hipgrave says there will be another nationwide vaccination round, most likely in November.

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