TORIT — Health officials in South Sudan have launched an emergency campaign to vaccinate 700,000 children under the age of 15 in Eastern Equatoria state against polio by the end of the week after a child in the state was diagnosed with the crippling and potentially deadly disease last month.
The national Ministry of Health has also rolled out a polio vaccination campaign in Northern Bahr el Ghazal State, where two more children were diagnosed with the disease in late September.
The small outbreak is significant because the region that became South Sudan in 2011 has been polio-free since 2009. The Ministry of Health runs four polio vaccination campaigns every year and says 94 percent of South Sudanese children under five have been vaccinated against the disease.
Medical authorities in South Sudan have been on high alert for cases of the disease after an outbreak in Somalia in May quickly spread to Kenya and Ethiopia.
Parents in Eastern Equatoria are being encouraged to bring their children to health centers or to wait for volunteer immunizers to come to their homes.
Akwir Joska brought her five-year-old son and one-year-old daughter to Torit Civil Hospital Tuesday to get them vaccinated against polio. She urged all mothers to do the same.
"I am very happy now. None of my children will get polio as they received the polio vaccine. I encourage all mothers to take their children to vaccination centers so that children get polio vaccine," she said.
A nationwide polio vaccination campaign in South Sudan is scheduled for November and December.
Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus that attacks a person's nervous system and quickly causes paralysis. It can be spread through tainted water and other drinks, uncooked food, and by coming into contact with faeces contaminated with the virus.
A global effort to eradicate polio, which was launched in 1988, has been hugely successful, with vaccination campaigns helping to reduce the number of cases worldwide by more than 99 percent and saving more than 10 million children from paralysis.
Today, polio remains endemic in just three countries—Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan—and fewer than 250 cases were reported in 2012, down from 650 cases in 2011.
Experts believe that polio can be wiped out by 2018, which would make it only the second disease to be eradicated after smallpox.