By Aislinn Laing in Johannesburg
Aid agencies in Central Africa will launch an emergency vaccination programme on Friday against a deadly strain of polio which is already thought to have killed up to 100 people.
The aim of the programme, led by the World Health Organisation and supported by UNICEF, is to vaccinate around three million people starting in the coastal town of Pointe Noire in the Republic of Congo, before moving on to the Angola border and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The outbreak was confirmed last week and the latest figures suggest that 226 people have been paralysed and 97 people have died.
The latest outbreak has mainly hit people aged between 15 and 29, suggesting a large number are at risk as until now those vaccinated against it have been mainly young children.
UNICEF’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Dr Gianfranco Rotigliano said adults and children would be vaccinated alike regardless of their past immunisation status.
“We have to stem this fast-moving outbreak,” he said. “We are at a critical juncture and stopping polio in Africa requires our absolute commitment”.