A campaign to immunize over 85 million children under five against polio will kick off Saturday in west and central Africa in a bid to halt a year-long epidemic, health bodies said in a joint communique.
According to a statement issued Thursday by the Joint Global Polio Eradication Initiative and International Federation of the Red Cross, nine countries in the region had active outbreaks of polio, a virus eliminated in most of the world.
"With better coverage that leaves no child unvaccinated, these campaigns can succeed in making west and central Africa polio-free," said the United Nations Children's Fund's regional director, Gianfranco Rotigliano.
Over 400,000 volunteers and health workers will participate in the immunization campaign in 19 countries, a 30 million dollar (21 million euro) operation funded by Rotary International.
UNICEF regional spokeswoman Gaelle Bausson told AFP there had been 1,469 cases in the 19 countries since February 2008.
Nigeria, one of only four polio-endemic hotspots left in the world, was the origin of the outbreak in 2008 which spread to neighbouring countries that had been declared polio-free and lacked the necessary skills to respond.
"A dedicated army of volunteers and health workers will work up to 12 hours per day, travelling on foot or bicycles, in cars and boats and on motorcycles, in often trying conditions," read the statement.
Children will receive two drops of oral polio vaccine (OPV) to immunize them against the highly infectious virus which has no cure and can result in total paralysis.