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11 West African Countries To Partake In Polio Vaccination Campaign; Benin Campaign Postponed Due to Health Worker Strike

A health workers’ strike has caused Benin to indefinitely delay a polio vaccination campaign, part of a regional effort taking place in several West African countries, IRIN reports. The Benin campaign was due to start on May 29.

“It is the strike that has pushed the government to postpone indefinitely the [immunization] campaign,” a Benin health ministry official said. Last week, members of the health workers’ union held a sit-in at the health ministry and many later participated in a political opposition march in the commercial capital, Cotonou (IRIN, 5/29).

More than 400,000 polio vaccinators in 11 West African countries were expected to immunize about 74 million children to curb a spreading epidemic, according a joint release issued by the WHO, UNICEF and Rotary International. The aim is to deliver oral polio vaccine house-to-house throughout the following countries in the region: Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Togo.

This year, 62 polio cases have been confirmed in seven countries that were previously free of the disease. Recently, the outbreak was confirmed to have spread to Guinea, which reported its last polio case in 2004.

“We know most of West Africa has been polio-free before, we know this region has suffered outbreaks and managed to stamp them out, and we are confident that these countries will again be polio-free soon,” Luis Gomes Sambo, the WHO’s regional director for Africa, said in the statement (WHO/UNICEF/Rotary International release/ReliefWeb, 5/28).

Oliver Rosenbauer, spokesperson for the WHO’s polio eradication group, said Benin is “one of the countries that has had breakthrough transmission – that is, [new] cases have been reported since the February-March immunization campaign.” The Benin Health Ministry said that although health workers are “trained and ready,” the campaign could not be launched because of the strike. “[E]verything must be in place and there must not be disruptions,” the ministry of health said.  

One health worker said, “We will wait for all of our demands to be met for every last health worker before resuming work…[The government] has not taken us seriously. Enough is enough” (IRIN, 5/29).