The United Nations and its partners are today due to complete the second of three rounds of country-wide polio immunization in the Republic of Congo, where a rare but highly fatal outbreak of the disease infected at least 476 people and caused the deaths of nearly 180.
The case fatality rate of the acute flaccid paralysis poliomyelitis was extremely high at 42 per cent, down from a peak of 47 per cent, according to Marixie Mercado, spokesperson for the UN Children`s Fund (UNICEF), which worked with the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and other partners to support Congo`s health ministry in the immunization campaign.
Sixty per cent of cases and deaths were young men and women between the ages of 15 and 29, Ms. Mercado told reporters in Geneva, adding that the first case of the outbreak was reported in the southern coastal city of Pointe Noire on 1 October.
Although global polio cases had decreased by 99 per cent since 1998 " from an estimated 350,000 cases then to 1,604 cases in 2009 " 23 previously polio-free countries have been re-infected by the virus between 2009 and 2010.
The Republic of Congo had recorded its last case of indigenous polio in 2000. Genetic sequencing determined that the polio virus in the current outbreak is most closely related to that circulating in Angola.
A third round of the national immunization campaign is scheduled for early January. UNICEF and its partners stressed that the success of the campaign hinged on effective leadership and social mobilization, as well as funding. The agency has a funding shortfall of $3 million to cover the cost of vaccines, social mobilization and hygiene.