United Nations-backed polio vaccination campaign

Hundreds of thousands of children are benefiting from a United Nations-backed polio vaccination campaign in a northern state of South Sudan, the youngest country in the world which won its independence in July, UN officials said here Thursday.

The four-day campaign, which ends on Friday, is part of a nationwide effort to curb the disease and was launched by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO), South Sudanese healthy ministry and other partners, said the officials.

This is the fourth and final campaign this year targeting more than 370,000 children below the age of five. The previous three campaigns took place in February, March and November and have reached some 3.2 million children.

“Our target for the last three exercises this year was to immunize 376,857 children under five years of age,” said Paulo Okech Ajak, manager of WHO’s Expanded Program for Immunization in Upper Nile state. “For February, we reached 100 percent; March, 101 percent; and November, 102 percent. We also expect this one to exceed the target.”

A highly infectious disease caused by a virus, polio invades the nervous system and leads to irreversible paralysis in one out of 200 cases. Only four countries — Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan — remain polio-endemic today, and the number of cases has declined drastically over the past 25 years.

Polio re-emerged in South Sudan in April 2008, but after an intensive vaccination campaign, no new cases have been reported since June 2009.

“The polio virus has been kicked out from not only Upper Nile state but South Sudan as a whole,” said WHO Director for South Sudan Fazal Ather.

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