BUJUMBURA, Burundi, 11 December 2009 - Vaccination teams were in high gear as Burundi carried out the second round of an ongoing polio immunization campaign last month.
During the first round in October, more than 1.6 million children under the age of five were vaccinated in health centres, outreach sites and schools - thousands more than had been expected.
UNICEF Representative in Burundi Gloria Kodzwa expressed satisfaction at the successful nationwide mobilization of families and the high turnout, following the discovery of two wild poliovirus cases in Cibitoke Province.
"We cannot afford to lose any more children to polio," she said.
Dr. Emmanuel Seheye of the Ministry of Health noted that Burundi had been polio-free for 10 years before the outbreak. Sequencing of the virus shows that it came from the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo in late September, after passing through Angola and India.
A partnership to fight polio
Government preparations began in October, with the support of UNICEF and the World Health Organization. UNICEF's contribution included doses of the vaccine sufficient for two rounds, as well as mass mobilization and field supervision of the exercise.
UNICEF Burundi Chief of Health and Nutrition Celestin Traore noted that there were a few instances of centres running out of vaccines due to underestimated child populations and poor distribution of doses in some provinces during the first round. These lapses are being addressed, along with retraining of vaccinators and their supervisors.
Authorities are also intensifying mobilization among some groups that have prevented the vaccination of their children - since even one child who is not immunized puts all children in the vicinity at risk.
As in the first round, the second round took place simultaneously in Burundi, North and South Kivu in DR Congo, and Rwanda, Burundi's northern neighbour.