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» 31.07.2009 - 30 million children targeted in Nigeria's immunization campaign
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» 16.10.2008 - Nigeria has hope of eradicating polio
» 05.03.2007 - Nigerian programme increases polio immunisation

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Polio campaign in north Nigeria starts next week

afrol News, 1 July - Authorities in the northern Nigerian state Kano have told UN agencies that the polio immunisation campaign there will start in "early July", possibly next week. There are already information campaigns going on, telling local communities earlier government reports of an unsafe vaccine were ungrounded.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) was informed of this by the Governor of Kano, who however declined to give a concrete day for the campaign's start-up. The Kano Governor had also confirmed that he accepts that the oral polio vaccine "is safe and effective." This finally ends the controversy over polio immunisation in Kano.

Kano authorities last year stopped the immunisation campaign in the state, which has the world's largest polio infection rate, over conspiracy theories regarding the safety of the vaccine. The halt in Kano has since jeopardised the global effort to eradicate polio and northern Nigerian polio has since spread to ten African countries where the disease earlier had been eradicated.

Melissa Corkum of the WHO's Polio Eradication Initiative today told afrol News that the UN agency and its partners already had started preparative works in Kano. Training for the July campaigns began on Saturday, 26 June, and the Kano Governor has requested assistance from WHO in planning and implementation of the campaigns.

While WHO concentrates on "providing technical assistance to the Nigerian teams" of health workers that are to carry out the immunisation, UNICEF is coordinating the work to sensitise local communities on the vaccine - which for several months has been described as dangerous by state authorities and local media.

- UNICEF plays a key role in educating communities, Ms Corkum explained. The UN's children agency is already working in Kano, she confirmed, adding that UNICEF is now "up-scaling its staff there" to head a large-scale information and education programme in advance of the immunisation.

Other ways of regaining confidence among local communities for the polio vaccine include an emphasis on using local health workers. These WHO-coordinated immunisation campaigns are usually organised by national authorities, using national health workers, Ms Corkum told afrol News. The July Kano campaign, however, is "organised by the state's authorities" and will mainly include "local health workers".

The resumption of immunisation campaigns in Kano only comes after strong pressure from UN agencies, governments of regional African states and the federal government of Nigeria. Almost each and every month, there have been reports from a new African country infected by the Northern Nigeria strain of the polio virus.

The virus even reached far-away Botswana, which immediately launched a costly re-immunisation campaign to hinder a possible countrywide re-infection. In previously virus-free Côte d'Ivoire, a total of eight polio infections have been registered so far this year, Ms Corkum says.

The most terrifying news is however that the virus has reached the Darfur region of Sudan, where poor access and the ongoing humanitarian crisis could hinder an immunisation campaign. The entire global US$ 3 billion investment of since 1988 for polio eradication could thus be jeopardised. Consequently, pressure on Kano authorities has grown strong.

Also, the notification that the Kano Governor had bowed into pressure was met with joy among the campaigners. "I welcome these steps towards the resumption of polio immunisation reported by the Governor of Kano," commented WHO Director-General Lee Jong-Wook in a statement today.

The developments in Kano coincided with discussions between Mr Lee and Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo on how to proceed with the polio epidemic in Nigeria at large. Nigeria is one out of the six remaining countries world-wide where polio is endemic, but it has the by far highest infection rate. 259 out of a global 339 total new polio infections so far this year have been in Nigeria.

- The resumption of immunisation campaigns in Kano is now critical to rapidly increase population immunity and to help contain the international spread of polio from Nigeria, which is key to the global effort to eradicate the disease, commented the WHO in a press statement today.

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