Polio Campaign in Africa


This is Gwen Outen with the VOA Special English Development Report.

Health workers in West and Central Africa have been carrying out a campaign to protect eighty million children from polio. The vaccination effort involves twenty-three countries. Organizers call it "the single-largest public health campaign in history."

The workers are going house to house. They want to make sure every child below the age of five is vaccinated. The first part of the campaign began Friday and continues through Tuesday.

The polio vaccine is taken by mouth. The first child to receive the drops of liquid was Zainab Ibrahim Shekaru. She is the one-year-old daughter of the governor of Kano state in Nigeria.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo gave the baby the vaccine at a ceremony in Kano on October second. Other African leaders also attended. Mister Obasanjo directed all Nigerians to stay at home this past Saturday morning so children could be immunized.

Polio is caused by a virus. The virus is spread through body fluids and also water or food handled by an infected person. People who get the disease often lose the ability to move their arms or legs. Some die from polio. There is no cure. But polio can be prevented. To work best, the vaccine is given to children several times during their first few years of life.

Since two thousand three, there have been new cases in twelve African countries that had been free of polio. Polio began to spread in Africa last year after Kano and other states in northern Nigeria stopped immunization efforts. Islamic religious leaders had claimed that the vaccine was harmful. But the leaders have declared the current supplies to be safe.

The next National Immunization Days are set from November eighteenth to the twenty-second. Children will also have the chance to receive vitamin A, which is important for good health.

The campaign is led by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. This program includes the United Nations Children's Fund and the World Health Organization. Rotary International and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are also involved.

World health officials set a goal to end polio by two thousand five. The W.H.O. counted seven hundred fifty-four new cases in the world this year through the end of September. Three-fourths were in Nigeria.

This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Karen Leggett. This is Gwen Outen.