Sierra Leone kicks off polio vaccination drive

Hundreds of health workers visited hamlets and far-off villages in Sierra Leone on Friday to start a four day campaign to vaccinate over one million children under age five against polio.

The first round of the campaign is supported by UNICEF, the World Health Organization, Rotary International and other development partners. It will cover all 12 districts in the country and 13 other countries in the sub region, according to AFP.

“There is much excitement in the campaign and mothers have committed themselves to bring their kids to vaccination centers around the country,” Tity Turay, one of the organizers, told AFP.

Sierra Leone was polio-free between 2000 and July 2009, when six districts confirmed 13 new cases.

"Polio is one of the viruses that can be eradicated from the face of the earth like smallpox,” Dr. Nuhu Matesha, a U.N. officer said, according to AFP. “We know that we still have some children that were missed in the past and we are also aware that some countries in the sub region have the polio virus circulating. The only way to protect under-fives from the disease is through the administration of two doses of the vaccine every year.”

The most recent case of polio in the country was identified in February 2010.

“Sierra Leoneans still do not know the causes of polio attributing it to witchcraft and other mysteries despite the availability of very effective evidence-based intervention,” Matesha said, AFP reports. “Just two drops of the vaccine can make a major and long lasting positive impact on children's lives.”