Polio Outbreak in Congo Kills 200

Brazzaville — The number of people killed by an outbreak of wild polio virus in the Republic of Congo has reached 200, officials said, as the second of three rounds of mass vaccination began.

“The first phase was a great success with a coverage rate of 105 percent. This rate reflects the fact that we identified 4,135,000 people and ultimately 4,300,000 people were immunized,” said the Minister of Health and Population, Georges Moyen.

“Since 2 December, the country has more reported cases of deaths from acute flaccid paralysis,” said Moyen, stating that the current balance is of 200 deaths from nearly 480 cases.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the second phase of the immunization campaign was aimed at targeting people who missed the first round of the immunization programme from 18-22 November 2010.

“We believe that after the second round of vaccinations, there will be no more new cases,” said Gianfranco Rotigliano, regional director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

According to UNICEF and WHO, the outbreak of polio in Congo, considered eradicated for the past 11 years, originated in Angola and is the result of the instability that prevailed during the years of war (between 1992 and 2000), resulting in the disruption of the health system.

“Immunization campaigns have three phases because it takes at least three doses to be protected against polio. The impact of those three campaigns will be assessed to determine if more activities might be needed,” Oliver Rosenbauer of WHO told IRIN.

“The third round of vaccination in Congo Brazzaville will take place in late December,” said Rosenbauer.

In addition to the three-phase outbreak response in Congo Brazzaville, synchronized measures are being taken in border areas of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Angola, targeting respectively 1.5 million and 1.46 million people.

“Certainly countries across central Africa right now should do more sensitive disease surveillance, so that they could rapidly detect an eventual polio case and also boost population immunity, in order to minimize the consequences should they become re-infected,” Rosenbauer told IRIN.

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