Voice of America (Washington, DC)

10 April 2014

West Africa: Cameroon Polio Vaccination Targets CAR, Nigerian Refugees

Yaounde — Cameroon has announced a special polio vaccination campaign for all children after half a dozen cases were identified.

There are fears that children fleeing dangerous situations in neighboring countries, such as terrorist violence in Nigeria - one of a few nations which have not eradicated polio - are spreading the virus.

Minister of Health Andre Mama Fouda said the whole country needs to be on alert to protect every child from the crippling and potentially fatal virus.

Fouda said although officials thought they could declare the country polio free, they unfortunately detected four cases of the wild polio virus in the west and then three others were also identifed - indicating virus is spreading.

Some of the cases were reported in children fleeing northeast Nigeria - where Boko Haram militants are committing acts of random violence.

Professor Tetani Ekwe, an official with Cameroon's Ministry of Public Health, told VOA that surveillance on Cameroon's border with Nigeria has been increased.

He said Cameroon has reinforced its system of epidemiological surveillance in order to try to eradicate the virus.

According to the World Health Organization, Nigeria accounts for 77 percent of polio cases in the world and to make the situation worse, northern Nigeria suspended its vaccination program for eight months last year.

After an international drive in 1988, Polio had been eradicated in all countries except Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It has since been reintroduced in the Horn of Africa, Syria and Cameroon.

Polio attacks the brain and spinal cord causing paralysis and is easily spread. It mainly affects children in the first 5 years of life. There is no cure, but is easily prevented with either oral or injectable vaccine.

Minister of Health Mama Fouda said given the resurgence in Polio cases, all children in Cameroon must be vaccinated.

He called on all parents with children less than five years of age - regardless of their national origin - to open their doors to vaccination teams or take their children to the nearest hospital.

Government officials are also calling on traditional rulers, village chiefs and religious leaders to assist by encouraging their communities to get vaccinated and report all suspected cases.

There are pockets of resistance to the polio vaccination drive due to misinformation about the safety of the vaccine, according to health activist, Mbassi Paul.

He said resistance is a deeply rooted problem in Cameroon particularly in the Christian community.

The World Health Organization says worldwide, the number of polio cases has reached 339 so far this year - almost double the number for the same period last year.

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