The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) says at least 116 million children will be immunised around Africa within the next few weeks.
The exercise is one of the largest simultaneous immunisations ever conducted in the African continent.
Rolling out a scheme tagged From Coast to Coast, UNICEF said the scheme is an intensified response to the regional emergency outbreak of polio.
The international humanitarian agency said it is mobilising more than 190, 000 polio vaccinators in 13 countries across west and central Africa who will immunise more than 116 million children over the next week.
UNICEF said the effort was to tackle the last remaining stronghold of polio on the continent which is expected to “permanently stop polio on the continent”.
It described the exercise as a “synchronized vaccination campaign, and one of largest of its kind ever implemented in Africa”.
Under the Coast to Coast programme, all children under five years of age in Benin, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, are expected to be immunised simultaneously in a coordinated effort.
The simultaneous immunisation, according to UNICEF, was necessitated by recent outbreaks especially the August 2016 incident of which four children were paralysed by the disease in Borno State, north-eastern Nigeria.
Borno has been “widely considered” to be the only place on the continent where the virus maintains its grip.
Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s Regional Director for Africa said “twenty years ago, Nelson Mandela launched the pan-African ‘Kick Polio Out of Africa’ campaign”.
“At that time, every single country on the continent was endemic to polio, and every year, more than 75 000 children were paralysed for life by this terrible disease. Thanks to the dedication of governments, communities, parents and health workers, this disease is now beaten back to this final reservoir.”
The WHO chieftain worried that the progress has not measured up with the epidemic-prone nature of the virus.
UNICEF’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Marie-Pierre Poirier, has optimised that with strong commitment of Africa’s leaders, the “From Coast to Coast” initiative will help end the child crippling disease in the continent.
“Polio eradication will be an unparalleled victory, which will not only save all future generations of children from the grip of a disease that is entirely preventable – but will show the world what Africa can do when it unites behind a common goal,” Poirier said.