By United Nations
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25 January - United Nations agencies and the Gates Foundation today welcomed commitments by the Angolan Government to eradicate polio, a crippling disease which had been eliminated from the country for several years but then reappeared in 2005 and spread to neighbouring nations.

Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos reaffirmed the Government's commitment to eliminating the disease during a meeting on Monday with Anthony Lake, Executive Director of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), Dr. Tachi Yamada, president of the Global Health Program of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, Assistant Regional Director for Africa for the World Health Organization (WHO).

Mr. dos Santos also agreed to spearhead the country's 2011 vaccination campaigns and ensure that they are conducted with determination and efficiency.

“Every child has the right to be vaccinated against this evil disease,” said Mr. Lake, who arrived in the country last weekend along with Dr. Yamada to support the Government's efforts to halt an ongoing polio outbreak centred in the capital, Luanda.

“This renewed partnership in Angola can help us to achieve an historic victory and rid the world of polio once and for all.”

According to UNICEF, 32 people contracted polio in Angola last year, a “disappointing turnaround” from 2004, when the country celebrated three consecutive years free from the virus and the country stood ready to be declared polio-free.

But by May of 2005, the disease returned and quickly spread to Namibia (2006), Democratic Republic of the Congo (2006, 2008 and 2010), and the Republic of Congo (2010).

A total of $70 million is needed this year for the national immunization plan, and private sector companies and bilateral partners have agreed to contribute to the $24.5 million shortfall by pledging additional funds, logistical support and technical expertise.

During a field visit to Cacuaco, one of Luanda's large urban communities, the delegation met with a family whose daughter had been paralyzed by polio. They visited a health clinic that provides services to almost 40,000 people and met with community health volunteers who play a vital role in educating communities about the dangers of polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases, and also serving as vaccinators during campaigns.

Globally, polio has been eradicated in all but four countries – Pakistan, India, Nigeria and Afghanistan.

“Extraordinary progress in Nigeria and India – each has reduced cases by approximately 95 per cent last year – has given us confidence in the global fight to end polio,” said Dr. Yamada. “The spotlight has turned to Angola, and we must all be held accountable for success here as we seek to rid the world of a terrible disease.”