In Ethiopia, the World Health Organization has launched a four-day campaign to immunize eleven and a half million children against polio. In the past year 23 Ethiopian children have contracted the polio virus, which is believed to have spread from neighboring Sudan.
About 100 thousand volunteers and health workers have formed teams that will go door-to-door to administer the vaccinations.
Dr. David Heymann is with the WHO. From Geneva, he spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about the new polio eradication campaign. “The campaign to vaccinate children against polio in Ethiopia has begun because Ethiopia has become reinfected with the polio virus. For four years, between 2001 And 2004, it was free of virus, but then a polio virus made its way across Africa from Nigeria through Chad, Sudan and then into Ethiopia and caused a couple different outbreaks in Ethiopia," he says.
The campaign will reach 75 percent of the children under age five who live in the areas most at risk. These areas include Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa City Administrations and Amhara, Harari, Oromia (except West Wollega), Somali and Tigray regions.
As for the outbreaks in neighboring Sudan and Somalia, Dr. Heymann says, “The outbreak in Sudan has actually now been controlled and there have been no recent cases in Sudan. In Somalia on the other hand, there have been increasing numbers of cases each week and we’re very concerned about Somalia…and hope that they will soon be able to stop the outbreak there as well.”
The polio virus is believed to have spread from Nigeria in 2003, when leaders in northern states said the vaccines were unsafe. The vaccines were proven safe, but there was a
13-month lapse in immunizations there.