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Vaccination of 10 million children against polio begins

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KINSHASA, 13 Sep 2005 (IRIN) - Local health authorities and UNICEF launched a drive on Monday to vaccinate 10 million children against polio in six provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) bordering Angola, Health Minister Emile Bongeli said.

"Those provinces are threatened by a wild polio virus that has been detected in the neighbouring country. In DRC, we have already almost managed to eradicate the disease," Bongeli said in Kinshasa, the nation's capital.

The vaccination drive is also to take place in two provinces in the north, bordering the Central African Republic and Sudan, where cases of polio have been registered.

On 22 September, the vaccination effort will be launched in the southern part of the country and carried through to the north. The head of the nation's vaccination programme, Dr Jean-Marie Muya Mbayo, said the last case of the wild polio virus in the DRC was detected in 2000.

The representative of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) in the DRC, Anthony Bloomberg, said vaccination campaigns would have to be carried out until all the natural habitats of the wild polio virus disappear. "We have to be vigilant," he said. "Otherwise this disease and others that had been eradicated during the colonial period will reappear."

Some diseases that had been eradicated in the 1960s, like sleeping sickness and river blindness, began to reappear in Congo 10 years ago. Two successive wars, lasting more than eight years, and the destruction of health facilities have contributed to this resurgence.

UNICEF says donors have granted the DRC US $16 million for the current vaccination campaign against polio and measles, as well as for a vitamin A supplement to be administered to all the children who have been vaccinated. Giving vitamin A supplements and treating children against intestinal parasites will help lessen the impact of malnutrition, Bongeli said.

At least 8,000 Congolese children are victims of polio. Most cases occurred in the 1980s and 1990s, especially in the diamond-mining region of Kasai.


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