Bangladesh + 1 more

Trying to stay polio-free

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BANGKOK, 11 January 2012 (IRIN) - Mobile health teams in Bangladesh are conducting "child-to-child" searches to reach the remaining half million children not vaccinated during a nationwide polio immunization campaign launched on 7 January.

The campaign's goal was to vaccinate 22 million children under five. Only 560,791 children short of reaching it, mobile teams have been conducting house visits, concluding on 11 January, to vaccinate the remainder, Arun Bhadra Thapa, World Health Organization's country representative, told IRIN.

Hard to reach areas include hilly sub-districts, coastal belts, temporary river islands known as `chars' and swampy marshlands, he added.

To reach every child, more support and supervision are needed for hard-to-reach and high-risk areas, said UN Children's Fund representative Pascal Villeneuve.

Neighbouring India is one of four countries worldwide where polio remains endemic, the others being Afghanistan , Pakistan and Nigeria.

Mahmuda Akhter, a medical officer with local NGO Family Planning Association of Bangladesh, who participated in the most recent vaccinations, said reaching the children of migrants in areas bordering India was the main challenge now.

"Migrants there should get the attention," she said.

Despite the challenges, the programme is running properly and reaching almost all children, she said.

Since 1995 health workers have conducted annual nationwide polio immunizations with the exception of 2005. Since a polio outbreak in 2006 of an imported viral strain, the government has not reported any infections, pledging annual polio vaccinations until India is declared polio-free.

On 13 January - for the first time in history - India will pass one year without a single child being paralyzed by polio, if no cases are reported and if all pending samples return negative in the coming weeks.

Bangladesh's next round of polio vaccinations is scheduled for 11 February.