- Despite continued warfare, the three-day polio vaccination campaign launched throughout Sudan on 10 January has been "exceptionally successful," reaching more 5 million children under five, according to preliminary UN figures. The various warring factions in Africa's largest country had allowed vaccinations to proceed unhindered, also in Darfur.
The UN in advance had been concerned that the war in western Sudan's Darfur region would hinder the vaccination campaign. "I am pleased that all Sudanese parties, including in Darfur, have responded favourably to the appeal I made to observe days of tranquillity during the campaign," however today said UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Representative, Jan Pronk.
- I am satisfied that they all kept their promises, Mr Pronk added. "I would like to thank [the warring parties in Darfur] for their cooperation and call on them to respect fully the ceasefire agreements in order to allow for the completion of the campaign."
The fact that all parties, including the rebel groups in Darfur, lived up to their commitments was "a sign that the momentum for peace generated" by the signing of the a comprehensive agreement signed earlier this month ending Africa's longest civil war in the south of the country can be expanded to the whole of Sudan, Mr Pronk added.
The UN's World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) organised the campaign with partners from the national and international non-governmental community as well as with the support of countries who contributed generously in an effort to reach all vulnerable children in Sudan, currently ranking third in the list of nations with the world's highest rates of cases of the crippling disease.
The initial target is to cover 5.9 million Sudanese children under five. The campaign in southern Sudan is scheduled to be conducted this week in areas controlled by the SPLA separatist rebels - who signed a peace agreement with the Khartoum government earlier this month - after being delayed for logistical reasons given the difficulty of road access to targeted population.
Further rounds of vaccination Sudan are to be conducted on 27 February and 11 April, according to the UN. The polio vaccination efforts in Sudan are part of a greater African campaign, aiming at eradicating the disease totally.
Polio had earlier been eradicated in Sudan. The disease however returned to the war-ravaged country after a suspension of polio immunisation activities in parts of northern Nigeria in 2003. The new upswing of polio in Sudan rapidly reached epidemic proportions, propelled by low immunisation rates among children in the country.
Sudan went from zero polio cases in 2003 to 112 cases in the last 9 months. The Sudan outbreak, which is a result of the spread of poliovirus originating in Nigeria, now threatens the polio-free Horn of Africa, Congo Kinshasa (DRC) and the Gulf region, as evinced by a recent case in Saudi Arabia.
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