The U.N. Children's Fund reports the second of three rounds of nation-wide polio immunizations meant to reach the entire population in the Republic of Congo will be completed this week. UNICEF says a third and final round of immunizations will be held in January.
The immunization campaigns are intended to stop a rare and unusually fatal outbreak of polio in the Republic of Congo. The first case was reported from the port city of Pointe Noire on October 1.
Since then 179 deaths and at least 476 cases of acute flaccid paralysis from polio have been reported. UNICEF spokeswoman, Marixie Mercado says two attributes make this outbreak unusual and unusually worrisome.
"First, is that among those paralyzed by polio, on average between five and 10 percent die when their breathing muscles become immobilized, said Mecado. "In Congo, the case fatality rate is extremely high at 42 percent, down from a peak of 47 percent. Second is that the majority of cases and deaths-60 percent have been among young men and women between 15 and 29 years old. Also worthy to note that in Pointe Noire, where the data is more detailed, the numbers show that two thirds of the young adults affected were young men, one third were young women."
Mercado says there is a great risk of the virus spreading nationally and beyond.
The immunization campaigns have targeted about three-million people in Congo and in border areas of Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Genetic sequencing shows the polio cases in the Republic of Congo are caused by a virus most closely related to that circulating in Angola.
Mercado says the campaigns have been successful. But, she says UNICEF and its partners are running a deficit and this threatens the success of the January campaign.
She says the agencies need $3 million to buy polio vaccine, for hygiene activities and to mobilize volunteers.
The World Health Organization began its global polio eradication campaign in 1988. At that time, there were an estimated 350,000 cases of this crippling disease. That number declined to just more than 1,600 last year.
The Republic of Congo recorded its last case of indigenous polio in 2000. The World Health Organization, UNICEF and partners say it is critical that this current, fatal outbreak of the disease be stopped before it spreads further and does more harm.