DR Congo

More than two million Congolese children per year to be protected against Polio

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Democratic Republic of Congo to introduce Inactivated Polio Vaccine with Gavi and partners’ support

KINSHASA, 28 April 2015 – More than two million children in the Democratic Republic of Congo will benefit from Inactivated Polio Vaccine (IPV) every year as the country celebrates African Vaccination Week by introducing the vaccine into its routine immunisation schedule.

An official ceremony to launch the phased-introduction of the life-saving vaccine, which will be offered to all children born across the country each year, was held under the leadership of Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo at a new health centre in Mbankana, Maluku II health zone.

The first doses of the vaccine will be delivered this month in four provinces (Bandundu, Bas Congo, Equateur and Kinshasa),a further four provinces (Kasaï Occidental, Kasaï Oriental, Katanga and Maniema) will introduce the vaccine in May and children in the final three provinces (North and South Kivu, Province Orientale) will receive the vaccine in June.

“As long as a child somewhere is not protected against this crippling disease, every child is at risk,” said Anuradha Gupta, deputy CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. “Gavi fully supports the government in its efforts to strengthen its immunisation system as high routine coverage establishes a strong base for population immunity to prevent polio outbreaks and builds a sustainable platform for the introduction of IPV and other lifesaving vaccines. Immunisation is not just about protecting children against a disease, it is about unlocking the productivity potential of individuals, communities and countries.”

Strong routine immunisation systems are critical to reach polio elimination targets and prevent thousands of cases of disease and death. The Democratic Republic of Congo, with support from its partners, has improved its routine immunisation coverage and seen the percentage of children receiving DTP3 (three doses of diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis) rise from 25% in 1999 to 72% in 2013. However, geographical challenges as well as conflicts and insecurity have resulted in large differences between provinces.

DRC has been polio-free since the end of 2011 but for many years it was among the most affected countries worldwide. The year before DRC was declared polio-free, 93 cases were recorded. The challenge now for the Congolese health system and other partners is to make sure that polio does not return, and increase routine immunisation coverage against other diseases.

"Polio, which for decades has crippled many people around the world, was drastically reduced last year in our continent with only 17 cases in total, the lowest number ever reached. We are very close to reaching the target zero cases and eradicating this scourge from the African region by the end of 2018,” said Dr. Deo Nshimiriman, Representative ad interim of the World Health Organization in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

He stressed that African Vaccination Week (AVW), which starts today, and a series of Local Immunization Days that will follow from April 30 should consolidate achievements in immunisation and are opportunities not to be missed. “It is time to make substantial and sustained investments to strengthen health systems in DRC,” added Dr Nshimirimana.

In May 2013, the World Health Assembly endorsed the Polio Eradication & Endgame Strategic Plan 2013-2018, calling on countries to strengthen routine immunisation programmes and introduce at least one dose of IPV as a lead up to the phased removal of oral polio vaccines (OPV).

OPV is widely used in developing countries and while it has successfully reduced polio cases by 99% worldwide, adding IPV to routine immunisation programmes will further improve immunity and help reduce the risks associated with vaccine-derived polioviruses.

“The introduction of IPV is a fundamental step towards the aim of eradicating polio globally by 2018 and it will strengthen DRC’s position as polio-free, which it has been since 2011,” said UNICEF Representative in DRC, Pascal Villeneuve. “Immunisation remains the most cost-effective intervention to reduce the number of cases of disease and disability in children. Together with its partners, DRC is making sure that its children enjoy their right to be vaccinated and protected so they can grow, develop and lead healthy lives.”

Last year more than 350 cases of wild polio virus were recorded, mostly in Pakistan, which, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria, is one of the three countries where polio is considered endemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). However, no new wild poliovirus cases have been recorded in over six months in Africa leading to hopes that the continent is on the verge of being polio-free. Since the beginning of 2015, 22 cases have been reported mostly in Pakistan.

Gavi is currently supporting countries to accelerate the introduction of IPV, through funding from the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), as well as strengthening routine immunisation and health systems in the 73 countries it works with. DRC is the eighth Gavi-supported country to introduce IPV. Nepal became the first in September 2014, only 10 months after Gavi announced its support for countries to introduce the vaccine.

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Notes to editors

About Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance

Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance is a public-private partnership committed to saving children’s lives and protecting people’s health by increasing access to immunisation in poor countries. The Vaccine Alliance brings together developing country and donor governments, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Bank, the vaccine industry, technical agencies, civil society, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other private sector partners. Gavi uses innovative finance mechanisms, including co-financing by recipient countries, to secure sustainable funding and adequate supply of quality vaccines. Since 2000, Gavi has contributed to the immunisation of an additional 500 million children and the prevention of approximately 7 million future deaths. Learn more at www.gavi.org and connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance is funded by governments (Australia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, the People’s Republic of China, Republic of Korea, Russia, South Africa, Spain, the State of Qatar, the Sultanate of Oman, Sweden, United Kingdom, and United States), the European Commission, the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, as well as private and corporate partners (Absolute Return for Kids, Anglo American plc., the A&A Foundation, The Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, Comic Relief, the ELMA Vaccines and Immunization Foundation, JP Morgan, Kuwait Youth Committee, “la Caixa” Foundation, LDS Charities, Lions Clubs International Foundation, UPS and Vodafone.

About the Global Polio Eradication Initiative

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched in 1988, and is spearheaded by national governments, WHO, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF, and supported by key partners including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Since its launch in 1988, the incidence of polio has been reduced by more than 99%, from 350,000 cases per year in more than 125 countries, to 359 cases in 2014. In 2015, only three countries remain endemic: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.

About UNICEF

UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

About WHO

As the lead health authority within the United Nations system, WHO helps to ensure the safety of the medicines and vaccines that treat and protect us, the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink. Good health lays the foundation for vibrant and productive communities, stronger economies, safer nations and a better world. WHO’s work touches people’s lives around the world every day through over 7000 staff working in the field in 194 countries. WHO aims to provide every child, woman and man with the best chance to lead a long, healthy and fulfilled life. WHO monitors health trends to work out what needs to be done to protect human health. And uses the best scientific evidence available to establish the most effective ways to prevent, treat and cure health problems.

For further information, please contact

• Frédérique Tissandier, Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, ftissandier@gavi.org. Tel : +41 22 909 2968. Mobile : +41 79 300 8253
• Eugène Kabambi, Communications Coordinator | WHO DRC, kabambie@who.int ; Tel.: +47 241 39 027; Mobile : +243 81 715 1697 • Yves Willemot, Chief Communication UNICEF DRC ywillemot@unicef.org; Tel +243 81 88 46 746