Indonesia launches country's largest-ever immunization campaign to tackle expanding polio epidemic
24 million children to be immunized to prevent outbreak from spreading across Asia
29 August 2005 - To combat Indonesia's largest recorded polio epidemic, which now threatens a broad swath of countries across Asia, on 30 August, 24 million children will be immunized during the country's largest-ever mass immunization campaign.
Since March, 225 children have been paralysed, due to a poliovirus imported into the country earlier this year. Initially restricted to two provinces on Java island (Banten and West Java provinces), the outbreak is geographically expanding, recently infecting the country's capital Jakarta, as well as Sumatra and Central Java.
"In addition to paralysing children throughout Java and southern Sumatra, the outbreak continues to expand, and there is great risk that it could spread into neighbouring countries," confirmed Dr David Heymann, Representative for Polio Eradication at the World Health Organization (WHO), who recently returned from Jakarta. "As with other infectious diseases, the poliovirus does not respect borders. The Government of Indonesia has assured the polio partners that it is fully engaged and committed to stopping this outbreak, and to doing everything it can to prevent further international spread of the virus."
Indonesia's neighbours are looking to the Indonesian government for leadership in closing down this outbreak. Having a solid outbreak response mechanism in place is increasingly critical in this densely populated region, where emerging diseases such as avian influenza could pose risks to global health security.
On 30 and 31 August, more than 750,000 vaccinators, health workers and volunteers, will go house-to-house and work at vaccination booths across Indonesia to reach more than 24 million children under the age of five years. With more than 6,000 inhabited islands across the country, reaching every child will be a challenge. The Indonesian authorities are working with hundreds of NGOs on the ground, and have established a network of more than 500 mobile vaccination teams to ensure that children travelling through transit points, such as train stations, bus stations, airports and harbours, are not missed.
The polio eradication partnership is urgently scaling-up both technical and financial assistance to the Indonesia authorities. Leading the civil society sector charge is Rotary International, which has raised more than US$600 million for polio eradication since 1985.
"We are more than ever committed to the attainment of a polio-free world," commented Frank J Devlyn, Chairman, The Rotary Foundation. "Concerned Rotarians are mobilising across Asia. Rotarians from Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore are joining their fellow Rotary members in Indonesia in supporting these important activities."
"Reaching every, single child requires a massive communication effort, in highlighting to parents the dangers of the current polio outbreak and of the need to immunize every child," said Alan Court, Director of UNICEF's Programme Division. "This is our best chance to protect Indonesia's children, safeguard vulnerable children across the region, and keep a polio-free world within our sight."
The campaign on 30 August will be followed by additional immunization rounds on 27 September and early November.
Notes to editors: The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is spearheaded by national governments, the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF.
Indonesia had been polio-free since 1995. On 13 March 2005, a 20-month old boy in Sukabumi district, West Java, was paralysed by polio. Genetic analysis of the virus suggests it had been imported from Sudan. Since then, a total of 225 children have been paralysed by polio in Indonesia, in Banten province (151 cases), West Java province (58 cases), Lampung province on Sumatra (10 cases), Jakarta province (4 cases) and Central Java province (2 cases). Given the high disease burden and increasing geographical extent of the epidemic, concern is high of potential further spread across Asia, including to countries such as the Philippines, Malaysia and China.
Global eradication efforts have reduced the number of polio cases from 350,000 annually in 1988 to 1,110 cases in 2005 (as of 24 August). Six countries remain polio endemic (Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Niger and Egypt), however poliovirus continues to spread to previously polio-free countries. In total, 18 previously polio-free countries have been re-infected since mid-2003. In six of these 18 countries (Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, Mali and Sudan), population immunity levels were not high enough to prevent the re-establishment of transmission of the imported wild poliovirus.