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Keeping the lid on polio in the DR Congo

Keeping the lid on polio in the DR Congo

There were no recorded cases of polio in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) between 2001–2005, but since then the disease has threatened to return.

Following successive vaccination campaigns carried out from the 1980s, it appeared as if polio had been eradicated in the DR Congo. However, in 2008 dozens of new infections were reported in the central African region. This is because polio can be spread through migrant workers who have been exposed to the disease where it is still endemic, such as in a country like Nigeria.

Mass vaccination programmes have been run throughout the DR Congo since 2008 and there have been no reported cases after December 2011. Health workers and aid agencies in the country want to ensure it stays like that. Speaking to the news agency IRIN, the polio team leader for the UN’s child agency (UNICEF) said “authorities, vaccination teams and parents are doing the best they can to reach all children everywhere, including in the Kivus, despite the challenge of insecurity and lacking access [there].”

According to monitors from the World Health Organisation, an estimated 3.5% of young children were missed in North Kivu in the first round of vaccinations during July. In South Kivu the number of youngsters who missed out was even higher at 5%. This is why a second round of vaccinations will take place this year in August during the country’s National Immunisation Day. During this programme, nearly 1.4 million children under the age of five will be targeted in North Kivu and more than 1.1 million in South Kivu.

Solar fridges are vital

Though the situation in this eastern region of the DR Congo remains “difficult”, the UNICEF polio team leader is confident that the scheduled vaccinations will take place throughout both the Kivu provinces. To ensure vaccines remain potent, solar fridges have even been made available with the support of UNICEF, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) and the World Bank, since the majority of health centres in the DR Congo don’t have a functioning refrigerator.

Universal vaccinations are vital if the DR Congo is to remain free of polio and its children are to be protected from this devastating disease. Children like Claudine, a seven year-old who was left partially disabled by polio and has recently been helped to walk again by a centre in Goma. Run by a local non-governmental organisation, the centre supplies polio survivors with crutches and callipers. One of the fitters there told IRIN that unfortunately he has had to make “thousands” of callipers over his many years at the centre. But hopefully, the time will soon come when this technician will have to return to his original trade as a tailor, because polio will finally be eradicated from this central African country.

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