(HN, March 4, 2011) - The global health community is concerned about a massive outbreak of polio in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The DRC has witnessed a sharp resurgence of polio as conditions in the country continue to complicate vaccination efforts, potentially undermining global eradication of the crippling disease. From January 2010 to February 2011 there were 112 new cases - up from only three in 2009.
Although polio usually strikes children under five, in both countries it is mainly adults who have been infected.
“Vaccination campaigns only started in this country [DRC] in the mid-1980s. Those now over 30 years of age have mostly not been vaccinated,” Health Minister Victor Makwenge Kaput told IRIN late last year.
The outbreak in the DRC is serious enough to warrant a visit by UNICEF's Executive Director Tony Lake, who flew to the capital, Kinshasa, this week to meet with key government officials and to visit sites where health workers are battling the rapidly spreading outbreak .
In response, preparations are underway to go door to door to vaccinate more than 14 million children by the end of May.
"Eradicating polio in DRC and everywhere requires an absolute commitment by government and its partners to vaccinate every child,” said Lake. “UNICEF will do everything we can to support the DRC’s collective effort to defeat this evil virus once and for all.”
Since hitting its peak in the U.S. in 1952, the number of cases has gone down 99%; now, there are less than 1,500 known cases of polio worldwide.
There are just four polio-endemic countries: India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. While these numbers have been dropping, philanthropist Bill Gates says the majority of outbreaks in 2010 were actually in countries that had been polio-free. The virus travelled back across borders into countries like Tajikistan and Congo.
- HUMNEWS staff, files