Aid workers plan Friday to start a mass vaccination campaign against polio in the Republic of Congo, where at least 101 people have died since October, officials and UN organisations said Thursday.
"The first round of a mass vaccination campaign targeting three million people will begin Friday, in response to a polio epidemic which has unusually claimed a majority of adult victims," said a statement jointly released by the health ministry, the UN World Health Organisation (WHO), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Rotary Club.
"This campaign will begin tomorrow (Friday) in Pointe-Noire," the economic capital in the southwest of the country and the epicentre of the outbreak, Health Minister Georges Moyen told journalists.
"You mustn't think this campaign will only cover Pointe-Noire. On November 18, it will be the turn of Brazzaville, which like Dolisie and Nkayi (in the southwest), is also affected by the epidemic," he added.
These four principal towns in the central African country account for more than three quarters of the Congolese population of 3.6 million inhabitants, according to official figures.
Moyen said that "the vaccination will be carried out door-to-door, even in administrative offices," and added that 12 million doses of the vaccine would be needed to complete the operation, including booster shots.
In a statement, the WHO said that neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola would also be the object of vaccination campaigns.
Polio was thought to have been eradicated in Congo, where no cases had been registered since 2000, according to the WHO.
"According to our preliminary epidemiological inquiries, this is an imported polio virus," Congolese health director Alexis Elira Dokekias recently told AFP, adding that "the greatest number of cases are (...) between 15 and 40 years old," which is unusual. Polio generally affects children.
Dokekias said that the victims are "certainly people who have either been vaccinated before by vaccines no longer effective or not vaccinated."
In 2000 and 2001, the Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and Gabon carried out synchronised campaigns against the polio virus.