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Health News of Thursday, 5 February 2015

Source: Standard Tribune

Cameroon launches final push to eradicate polio

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More than 5 million children under the age of five have been targeted in mass immunization as Cameroon embarks on final push against polio.

A mass nationwide immunization campaign launched here at the weekend is being called the last push to eradicate polio from Cameroon.

Polio resurfaced in Cameroon two years ago, after several years of zero case during which health officials believed they had brought the virus under control.

At least five million children under the age of five plus tens of thousands of young refugees are at risk of catching the incurable disease that leaves victims crippled for the rest of their lives.

Cameroon is one of only a handful of countries in the world where the wild polio virus is still in circulation, according to the World Health Organization.

Nine new cases have been reported since the last outbreak in October 2013. The wild polio virus has been spreading geographically, showing up in places previously considered low risk, according to the ministry of health.

Cases were reported in almost every part of Cameroon including the West, North West, Center, Far North and East regions during the last two years. At least one case was found among Central African refugees in the East region.

The World Health organization tagged Cameroon as a polio exporter last year after a case in Equatorial Guinea was traced back to the country – and recommended “extraordinary measures to mitigate the risk of further international spread”.

This weekend’s vaccination campaign was the first of many more to come during the next year, as Cameroon battles a disease with far reaching socioeconomic implications.

Cameroon has carried out mass vaccinations on an almost monthly basis over the past two year following the last outbreak.

The ministry of public health is working with several United Nations agencies and hopes to immunize at least 98 percent of all children that need the vaccine. Health minister Andre Mama Fouda and the coordinator of the UN system in Cameroon Najat Rochdi administered the first drops of the vaccines for the year in Kye-Ossi on Friday.

Children received two drops of the vaccine orally from health workers who went to schools and vaccinated children at homes and health units across the country. If Cameroon does not report a new case in March, the country could drop off the list of polio exporting states by February, said Fouda.

But the long term goal is to stop the circulation of the wild polio virus and eventually eradicate the disease by the close of the year, the minister said. No new case of polio has been reported in the country since two cases were reported in the East region in August 2014. But keeping things as they are is being threatened by low vaccination coverage and the frequent movement of people across the country.

Figures show a drop in the percentage of vaccinated children in at least three regions: Center, Littoral and Adamawa. The percentage of missed children went up between September and the end of 2014.

Hundreds of thousands of children in the Far North, where insecurity limits the reach of health workers are also likely to miss vital doses of the polio vaccine. Pockets of resistance for religious and cultural reasons have also continued to undermine ongoing efforts.

Earlier this month, officials enlisted the supports of the country’s ten governors to help mobilize communities and build public trust in the vaccination campaign.

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