Date Published: 2 November 2006
Sudan polio immunization campaign to protect nearly eight million children
An estimated 7.8 million children across Sudan will be targeted in the next round of polio immunization, which starts on Sunday. Led by the Ministries of Health in both North and Southern Sudan, and backed by UNICEF, WHO and other partners, the National Immunization Days aim to ensure that Sudan remains polio-free in 2006. However organizers cautioned that the campaign's success will depend upon guaranteed access for health workers.
In face of the challenges, UNICEF Representative Ted Chaiban noted the contribution being made by Sudan to global development targets.
" The campaign against polio is vital to the ongoing development of Sudan, but also to global efforts to eradicate polio. The commitment being shown by health officials, partner organizations and local volunteers is truly heartening," he said.
40,000 vaccinators will travel from house to house in every community of the country during the three-day campaign, administering both the oral polio vaccine to all children under the age of five, and Vitamin A supplements to 4.9 million children aged six months to five years. Vitamin A is known to increase children's resistance to disease and prevent blindness, critical in a country with the 49th highest under-5 mortality rate in the world. In Southern Sudan, vaccinators will also undertake guinea-worm surveillance.
Chaiban urged communities to ensure the safety of vaccinators in areas of the country still affected by fighting, saying that:
" Safeguarding a child's health rises above any political differences that may exist in communities. It is imperative that where fighting continues, vaccinators and monitors are guaranteed safe access, and parents are able to present their children for vaccination. We rely upon all those still involved in conflict in Sudan to provide those guarantees."
The polio vaccine itself is administered through two small drops into a child's mouth, making it one of the easiest immunization processes available. Simple training, supported by UNICEF and WHO, is all that is required to enable a local volunteer to undertake vaccinations.
Earlier smaller polio immunization campaigns in Sudan during 2006 have resulted in 1.3 million children being successfully vaccinated in Darfur. No polio cases have been reported anywhere in Sudan since June 2005. In 2004 Sudan was close to being declared polio-free. With many children located in areas that are difficult to reach, and the risks of cross-border transmission due to population displacement, the National Immunization Day campaigns are a critical addition to routine immunization efforts, especially as health infrastructures are still weakened in many parts of the country.