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WHO Launches Mass Immunization Campaign After Polio Outbreak in Nigeria

The World Health Organization is leading a mass immunization campaign to prevent polio spreading from Nigeria to neighboring countries. reports the WHO plans to vaccinate 15 million children under age five in Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Niger, and Togo over three days.

The World Health Organization says hundreds of thousands of volunteers and health workers are going door-to-door in the five Central and West African countries. Their aim is to immunize every child under age five against polio. This mass immunization campaign is in response to a new polio outbreak in Nigeria.

A World Health Organization spokeswoman, Melissa Corkum, said the wild polio virus has traveled from Nigeria to neighboring countries, putting millions of children at risk of getting this crippling disease.

"We have had nearly a dozen children being paralyzed in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Niger, and Togo, and those cases are genetically traced back to the virus that is sweeping across northern Nigeria. So this is in response to that particular outbreak in Nigeria," she explained. "The countries where these mass campaigns are being launched, barring Niger, have been polio free for the past couple of years."

The World Health Organization launched its global polio eradication campaign in 1988. Since then, the number of cases of polio reported annually has dropped from about 350,000 to 414 this year.

Most of the world is now polio free, but WHO says seven polio-endemic countries - Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Niger, Egypt, and Somalia - remain of great concern. WHO calls the recent polio outbreak in Nigeria a setback to its goal of ridding the world of this crippling disease by the end of 2005.

Ms. Corkum said it is critical that this mass campaign reach every child in the affected countries. "We have seen with these imported cases that the polio virus does not need a passport. It can pass silently across borders," she said. "So, it is critical that the campaigns, the upcoming campaigns in Nigeria are of the highest quality to stop transmission, so that we do not continue to see more cases pop up in neighboring countries and indeed in the rest of Africa."

Nigeria, with 178 polio cases, is the most severely affected country in the world.