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Nine million African children to be vaccinated against polio

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA (AP) – A drive to vaccinate more than nine million children against polio was launched this week in four countries in southern and eastern Africa after an outbreak was confirmed in Malawi.

The urgent vaccination campaign has started in Malawi where drops of the inoculation are being placed in the mouths of children across the country, including in the capital, Lilongwe, and the country’s largest city, Blantyre.

The vaccination campaign will be expanded tomorrow to include the neighbouring countries of Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia, according to UNICEF which is working with the governments and other partners.

Three more rounds of vaccinations will follow in the coming months with a goal of reaching more than 20 million children.

“This is the first case of wild polio detected in Africa for more than five years and UNICEF is working closely with governments and partners to do everything possible to stop the virus in its tracks,” said UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa Mohamed M Fall.

“Polio spreads fast and can kill or cause permanent paralysis,” he said.

A child receives a polio vaccine, during the Malawi Polio Vaccination Campaign Launch in Lilongwe Malawi. PHOTO: AP

UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative are supporting governments with the vaccination drive after it was confirmed in February that a three-year-old girl was paralysed by wild poliovirus in Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe.

People most commonly contract polio when they drink water contaminated by the faeces of someone who carries the virus. Children under the age of five and those living in areas with poor sanitation are most at risk.

“A regional response is vital as polio is extremely contagious and can spread easily as people move across borders,” said Mohamed M Fall.

“There is no cure for polio, but the vaccine protects children for life. We are working with the WHO and other partners to make sure parents, as well as community and religious leaders, know how important it is that every child receives their vaccine.”