Sudan

Sudan NIDs target nearly six million children

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Close to six million children under the age of five were targeted during a crucial round of national immunizations against polio in all of Sudan's 26 states, 8-18 July.
About 40,000 volunteers, including members of the country's only Rotary club, the Rotary Club of Khartoum, went to great lengths, sometimes riding on camels and donkeys, to reach children in hard-to-access regions where roads are practically nonexistent as a result of 22 years of war and economic decline.

"It was the fifth National Immunization Day this year. Two more are planned for this calendar year," says Sohaib Elbadawi, chair of Sudan's national PolioPlus committee. "We had to hold most of them before heavy rains and floods make it impossible to travel."

Although immunization activities went without any war-related disruption in much of the country, thanks to a peace agreement between the government and a major rebel group, the Sudan People's Liberation Army, a United Nations appeal for a cease-fire in Darfur was ignored in parts of the region.

"We've worked under more difficult circumstances -- the vehicles of our partners have been ambushed and hijacked or shot at during past NIDs," says Elbadawi. "But the security situation has improved considerably, and this is probably the most successful immunization of all the 13 NIDs we have undertaken since Rotary started providing support."

Despite the protracted civil war, Sudan managed to stop transmission and was declared polio-free in 2001, but a new case of the disease was reported near the border with Chad in May 2004. Now, 152 cases have been confirmed in 18 states, creating fears of reinfection of other polio-free countries.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative partners and the Sudanese government have been carrying out emergency national and subnational immunizations to contain the spread of the outbreak.

"Our biggest concern is that Sudan is such a vast country," says Elbadawi. "It will be nice if the neighboring countries synchronize their immunization days with ours during the next four rounds, because these borders exist only in name and families cross them with children all the time."

He echoes the worries of UN officials who have been keen to see that the smoldering war in Darfur doesn't further complicate matters by making it impossible to immunize all the children.

"It is in everybody's interest that this epidemic is contained as soon as possible," said Manuel da Silva, the UN Secretary-General's deputy special representative for Sudan, in a statement on the eve of the July NIDs. "Otherwise, the consequences for the Sudanese people and neighboring countries may be disastrous. All Sudanese parties must rise to the occasion and shoulder their responsibility towards their own people."

The Rotary Foundation has provided nearly US$11 million, including emergency funds and PolioPlus Partner contributions, toward polio eradication in Sudan.