30 July 2010The Horn of Africa is once again free of polio, with Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda having reported no wild poliovirus cases for more than a year, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and its partners announced today. The Horn of Africa is once again free of polio, with Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda having reported no wild poliovirus cases for more than a year, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and its partners announced today. “Today marks a step towards the achievement of a major objective of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative’s new strategy – stopping polio in Africa,” the agency stated in a news release. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is spearheaded by national governments, the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF. UNICEF noted that the successful handling of the polio outbreak that began in 2008 in the Horn of Africa is attributed to a series of multi-country immunization campaigns, along with greater technical support and strong political engagement by the affected countries. A total of 101 children were paralyzed by polio – a highly infectious and sometimes fatal disease – in Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda between March 2008 and July 2009 when wild poliovirus type 1 reappeared in the region. “The end of this outbreak is further evidence that the full and swift implementation of international outbreak response guidelines work,” UNICEF stated. The new Global Polio Eradication Initiative Strategic Plan 2010-2012, adopted by the World Health Assembly last month, includes new measures to limit further international spread of polio and more rapidly stop new outbreaks. Some of these measures were applied during the 2008 outbreak, including what is known as Short Interval Additional Dose strategy, in which children are immunized at short intervals with type-specific vaccine to more rapidly raise population immunity levels. The Strategic Plan calls for the cessation by mid-2010 of all polio outbreaks which began before this year, and aims to build on success in key endemic countries, such as Nigeria, where the number of polio cases have dropped by more than 99 per cent – from 312 cases last year to three in 2010. In addition to Nigeria, the countries where polio is still endemic are Afghanistan, India and Pakistan. UNICEF pointed out that the threat of outbreaks remains a risk until transmission of wild poliovirus is stopped in all polio-affected countries, especially the four countries where the disease remains endemic.