"This has been a very useful workshop", said Youssouf Gamatié, Representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Chad. "Members [of the international Technical Advisory Group (TAG) on poliomyelitis] were able to review progress in the implementation of the recommendations formulated in the first TAG meeting. They acknowledged the achievements, and highlighted the gaps which need to be addressed in order to reach the goal of polio eradication in the African region by 2009", he added.
The workshop, led by the TAG under the auspices of WHO, met for the second time to advise the Government of Chad on the way forward, towards interrupting transmission in the country by the end of 2009. The first TAG meeting had been organized in July 2005 in N'Djamena. A number of conclusions were reached at this meeting, including the need to reinforce epidemic surveillance against the disease, and the need for advocacy so that families may allow their children to be vaccinated, all requiring the Host Government along with national and international actors to work in a concerted effort.
"We are committed to continue lending our technical assistance and support to the Government of Chad, in close collaboration with WHO, in all initiatives towards polio eradication, with particular focus on communication strategy and social mobilisation activities", said Dr. Marzio Babille, Representative of the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) in N'Djamena.
There are four countries where poliomyelitis is endemic: Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan. There are seven 'importation' countries: Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Ghana, Niger, the Sudan, and indeed Chad. Among the latter, Chad is special for two reasons. First, it is a 'transit' country due to its population movements, and between 2003 and 2005, it caused the spread of the disease from Nigeria to the Horn of Africa, Western Asia, and Indonesia, with a cost for the international community of $ 500 million to contain it. Second, immunisation rates are very low - more than half of children under five have not been vaccinated against the disease.
Polio mainly affects children under five years of age. One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis, usually in the legs. Among those paralysed, 5% to 10% die when their breathing muscles become immobilized. Polio cases worldwide have decreased by over 99% since 1988, from an estimated 350,000 cases then, to 1997 reported cases in 2006. The reduction is the result of the global effort to eradicate the disease. As long as a single child remains infected, children in all countries are at risk of contracting polio. Between 2003 and 2005, 25 previously polio-free countries were re-infected due to imports of the virus.
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