UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow has participated in the launching ceremony of the national polio campaign in Chad, a country that registered the second highest number of polio cases in the world.
“To see the eradication of polio would be very meaningful to me personally,” said Mia Farrow, who had polio as a child and whose son, adopted from India, is paraplegic from polio. “The challenge here in Chad is to convince all parents that the vaccine is safe and to reach every child, even in the most remote places.”
The UNICEF supported polio vaccination campaign comes at a pivotal time in the global push to eradicate the crippling disease. India, which two years ago registered the highest number of polio cases, made history in January by going a full year without a single case.
The success from India follows a major vaccination drive, with millions of volunteers combing the country to vaccinate every single child. In addition, more focus was put on ensuring access to clean water, sanitation and nutrition to help children absorb the vaccine and prevent the virus from spreading.
In 2011, Chad, which was once polio free, had 132 new cases of children with polio. Only Pakistan had more children affected that year. Chad, which had no polio cases from 2000 to 2003, has also exported the polio virus to other neighboring countries, such as the Central African Republic and experts fear that the great strides made in ending polio could be rolled back.
“The circulation of wild poliovirus persists in Chad due to not only the low quality of vaccination campaigns but also the weakness in routine EPI. I can assure you that UNICEF and other partners, WHO, CDC, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Rotary International, are committed to support government efforts to eradicate polio and to ensure full immunization of children in Chad against other vaccine-preventable diseases,” said Bruno Maes, UNICEF Chad Representative.
Since 1988, a major global polio eradication initiative supported by partners such as the World Health Organization, Rotary, the Gates Foundation, the Center for Disease Control and UNICEF, has reduced polio by 99 %. Since then, some 20 million volunteers have immunized 2.5 billion children. As a result, the number of polio endemic countries has fallen from 125 in 1988 to four today if India is included. The three other endemic countries are Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.
Farrow is bringing the same vaccination message to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The DRC, which is ravaged by conflict in the Eastern part of the country, has also seen a re-emergence of polio.
While in Chad, Farrow also visited Mao in the Sahel belt, and made an urgent plea for the world to provide immediate life-saving assistance to some 1.1 million severely malnourished children. She also visited women and children in Eastern Chad displaced by violence in the neighboring Darfur region and in parts of Chad.