29 March 2011 – A three-day polio immunization campaign kicked off in Juba yesterday, organized by the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) in collaboration with international partners.
Supported by UNICEF, the UN World Health Organization and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the campaign targets children under the age of five and represents the second polio immunization drive to be launched in Southern Sudan since the beginning of the year.
Speaking at the official campaign opening held at Juba's Nyakuron Cultural Centre, GoSS Minister of Health Dr. Luka Monoja urged parents to seize the opportunity to have their children vaccinated and continue the practice throughout the year.
"Collectively, we must kick and keep polio away from Southern Sudan," Minister Monoja said. He also emphasized the regional government's financial commitment to the polio eradication effort and expressed hope for continued international support.
Director of the UNICEF Southern Sudan Area Programme Dr. Yasmin Haque noted that the region had been free of polio during the initial three years after the signing of Sudan's Comprehensive Peace Agreement but then experienced an outbreak of the disease in June 2008.
Over 60 polio infections were confirmed among children at that time, leaving them very vulnerable to the disease since few had previously received routine immunization.
"There is a need for serious awareness among the local populations at the grassroots level to fully understand the importance of meeting the full dosage of the vaccine," said Dr. Haque.
She added that despite challenges, over 3,000 children had been immunized with the oral vaccine in the last three years.
USAID Sudan Mission Director William Hammink also noted that significant improvement had been seen in the past years among children under the age of five thanks to polio immunization programmes in Sudan.
"Due to the accelerated routine immunization activities, the national coverage significantly improved from 22 per cent to 43 per cent since 2009, and no more cases of wild polio were reported," said Mr. Hammink.
"Since 2005, USAID has committed over $8 million to support polio immunization and eradication as well as routine immunization activities across the region," added Mr. Hammink, who assured the GoSS of the U.S. agency's continued support.
International and local agencies are planning to support the implementation of four polio immunization campaigns in 2011, a significant increase in comparison to previous years when two such campaigns have taken place on an annual basis.