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General News of Friday, 19 December 2003

Source: GNA

Polio prevalence in West Africa is at crisis point

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Accra, Dec. 19, GNA - The prevalence of poliomyelitis in West Africa has been observed as the biggest threat to the global eradication of the crippling disease, Mrs Carol Bellamy, UNICEF Executive Director said in Accra on Friday.

Addressing the opening session of the 27th Ordinary Summit of ECOWAS Heads of State and Government, Mrs Bellamy said many West African States had become polio-free but were now being re-infected.

She said Nigeria with more cases of the disease than any other nation was the source of this recent surge of polio across the Sub-Region. Mrs Bellamy said available records indicated that Nigerian polio viruses had been exported to Ghana, nine cases, Burkina Faso, six cases, Chad, three and a case to Togo and responding to these cases had cost the world over 20 million dollars this year.

"This cost could have been avoided by improving all countries' routine immunization services to protect children against polio and other childhood diseases", she said.

She said Nigeria and Niger now account for well over half of the world's total polio caseload, according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) a partnership including UNICEF,WHO, Rotary International nd the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Mrs Bellamy presented a "four-point-plan" to stop transmission of polio in West Africa by the end of 2004.

These are to eliminate the virus in the remaining reservoirs in Nigeria and Niger, immunize every child in West Africa with the polio vaccine during the 2004 polio immunization campaigns, strengthen national routine immunization and develop rapid response plans to manage imported viruses.

Mrs Bellamy urged the Nigerian Government to adopt and intensify routine immunization programme as national polio defence strategy. The UNICEF Executive Director regretted that too many children in West Africa are defenceless against preventable childhood disease, creating the perfect conditions for epidemics.

"With polio in Nigeria on the rise and spreading, the sub-region have to adopt pragmatic strategies and plans as well as rapid-response to manage imported viruses to avoid a catastrophe."

Mrs Bellamy welcomed the formal adoption of the ECOWAS Peer Review on the Situation of Children - a Landmark initiative that provides a forum for leaders to evaluate how well each nation handles the rights and needs of its young people. .. She appealed to Heads of State and Government to use the Peer Review mechanism as a unique opportunity to promote children's participation in issues concerning their welfare. "Children would tell us frankly whether or not we are living up to our promises and really improving their situation," she said.

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