[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
BAGHDAD, 9 June (IRIN) - Plans are underway to launch a massive immunisation campaign in response, expected to reach 4.7 million children aged under five.
"For the past five years Iraq successfully controlled polio but due to the outbreaks in the neighbouring countries we have decided to vaccinate all children to prevent the re-emergence of the disease," Ahmed Abdul Khalak, a senior official in the ministry of health, told IRIN.
The last major outbreak in Iraq occurred in 1999, with 68 cases reported. Only four cases were reported in 2000.
UN Children's Fund country representative, Roger Wright, explained that more than 5,000 vaccination teams will be involved in the door-to-door immunisation drive expected to cover all governorates. Special attention will be paid to high-risk areas, new community settlements and internally displaced communities.
The first phase is to start on 19 June and a second immunisation round is scheduled to take place on 24 July 2005.
The World Health Organisation and UNICEF have both thrown their weight behind the intervention by providing 10 million doses of the Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV), cold chain equipment and transportation needed for the deployment of the vaccination teams.
"This campaign is extremely important, both for Iraq and the global eradication effort. After tremendous efforts, Iraq was declared a polio-free country, with zero cases reported in 2001. The re-emergence of even a single polio case will take Iraq back to the pre-2001 situation, which would imply that millions of dollars more would have to be invested," Wright added.
Iraqi families have welcomed the emergency campaign and some of them have expressed excitement over the prospect of being among the first to receive the vaccine.
"Iraq has a lot of social and health problems and we have to prevent the appearance of others. I wish that my sons are among the first ones to get the vaccine. The vaccination teams are most welcome in my home," Suma al-Kubaissy, 34, mother of three, told IRIN in the capital.
But continuing insecurity in parts of the country remains a concern and could threaten the success of the programme, health officials have warned.
"Security issues cannot be forgotten, especially in suburban areas. The situation in the country has delayed work but we will do what is necessary to reach to every child in Iraq," Khalak added.
In a recent immunisation campaign against other childhood diseases, the health ministry reached 95 percent of its target group.
It was reported that vaccination teams had successfully carried out their work even in conflict areas, moving from house to house equipped with detailed maps showing the exact location of all homes.
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