Sunday, August 1, 2010



by Peter Mutai

NAIROBI, July 31 (Xinhua) -- The Horn of Africa is again polio-free, with Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda having reported no wild poliovirus cases for more than a year, the UN children's fund, UNICEF said.

UNICEF and its partners said in a joint statement received here Saturday that the achievement marked a step towards targets in new polio eradication strategy. "Today marks a step towards the achievement of a major objective of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative's new strategy, stopping polio in Africa," they said.

The outbreak began in 2008, following the reappearance of wild poliovirus type 1 in the border area of southern Sudan and Ethiopia, and spread in early 2009 to the northern Sudanese city of Port Sudan, and to Kenya and Uganda.

The cases in Port Sudan sparked particular international concern as it was from this area that, from 2004 to 2006, wild poliovirus type 1 spread to re-infect several countries, including Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Yemen and Indonesia.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is spearheaded by national governments, the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF.

UNICEF noted that the successful handling of the polio outbreak that began in 2008 in the Horn of Africa is attributed to a series of multi-country immunization campaigns, along with greater technical support and strong political engagement by the affected countries.

A total of 101 children were paralyzed by polio – a highly infectious and sometimes fatal disease – in Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda between March 2008 and July 2009 when wild poliovirus type 1 reappeared in the region. "The end of this outbreak is further evidence that the full and swift implementation of international outbreak response guidelines work," the UN agencies said. "In this outbreak, some of these new approaches were applied; notably the Short Interval Additional Dose strategy, in which children are, immunized at short intervals with type-specific vaccine to more rapidly raise population immunity levels."

The first milestone of the strategic plan calls for the cessation by mid-2010 of all polio outbreaks which began before this year. All eyes will also be on Angola and Chad to end transmission by the end of 2010.

The threat of outbreaks remains a risk until transmission of wild poliovirus is stopped in all polio-affected countries, especially the remaining polio-endemic countries (Nigeria in Africa and Pakistan, India and Afghanistan in Asia).

Importation of virus from such areas is currently responsible for ongoing outbreaks such as in Angola and Tajikistan, both of which have led to further international spread.

The new Global Polio Eradication Initiative Strategic Plan 2010- 2012, adopted by the World Health Assembly last month, includes new measures to limit further international spread of polio and more rapidly stop new outbreaks.

Some of these measures were applied during the 2008 outbreak, including what is known as Short Interval Additional Dose strategy, in which children are immunized at short intervals with type- specific vaccine to more rapidly raise population immunity levels.

Of concern, financial constraints are forcing a reprioritization of further planned activities.

As a result, Somalia and Ethiopia – where vaccination campaigns are necessary to protect gains – have had to delay activities to later in the year in order to free up international funding to support activities in areas with ongoing polio transmission.

Partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative are examining every possible option to mobilize additional resources, manage the cash flow, minimize any threat to progress made across the countries with importations of polio and meet the first milestone in the strategic plan.

Achievement of the milestones will be monitored quarterly and assessed at end-2010 to determine if the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) is on track to meet its objectives.

The is spearheaded by national governments, GPEI, WHO, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF.

Since 1988 (the year the GPEI was launched), the incidence of polio has been reduced by more than 99 per cent. In 1988, more than 350,000 children were paralyzed each year in more than 125 endemic countries.

In 2009, 1595 children were paralyzed in 24 countries. Only four countries remain endemic: Nigeria, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.