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African polio outbreak worries Red Cross

GENEVA, April 8 – A polio outbreak that now affects 15 African countries threatens efforts to eradicate the disease, the international Red Cross said on Wednesday, as it sought funding for immunisation.

The 2.1 million dollars (1.6 million euros) the agency needs would go towards mobilisation for immunisation programmes in the region, said the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

"We have clear indications that polio is spreading again, including in countries such as Uganda which had been polio-free for more than a decade," said Tammam Aloudat, IFRC senior officer for health in emergencies.

"We need to act now by reinforcing emergency vaccination campaigns before efforts made over the last 20 years to eradicate polio are severely set back by this series of outbreaks."

Uganda recently launched an emergency drive to immunise children against polio following the first confirmed case of the virus to strike the country in 12 years, in the northwest, near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Cases of polio surged in Nigeria again last year and spread to surrounding countries in west Africa and further afield. Persistent outbreaks have also hit Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to international agencies.

An outbreak of polio earlier restricted to southern Sudan and western Ethiopia has now also spread to Kenya, Uganda and northern Sudan, including the coastal city of Port Sudan, the Red Cross said.

Polio cases in Port Sudan were of "particular concern" after an outbreak there spread in 2004 and 2006 to countries including Saudi Arabia, Yemen and as far afield as south-east Asia’s Indonesia.

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Some strains of polio can cause paralysis and even lead to death. The disease is transmitted via contaminated food, water and faeces.

It remains endemic in four countries — Nigeria, India, Pakistan and Afghanisation, said the IFRC.

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