The World Health Organization and United Nations Children's Fund are urging the government in Ukraine to give the immediate go-ahead for a life-saving nationwide polio immunization campaign. The U.N. agencies warn the government's failure to back the campaign is putting the lives of nearly 2 million children at risk.
Six weeks after a polio outbreak and despite repeated requests by aid agencies, Ukrainian authorities still have not given permission for a nationwide immunization campaign to begin.
WHO communications officer Oliver Rosenbauer told VOA the political indecision could cost the lives of many children.
"Time is absolutely of the essence. The longer this virus is allowed to circulate, the higher the risk that you are going to see more and more children paralyzed by this disease…You need to run an immunization response as quickly as possible," Rosenbauer said.
Two children - aged 10 months and four years - were confirmed to have polio on September 1 in southwest Ukraine. Neither child had been immunized against it. This is the first polio outbreak to hit the country in 19 years.
The WHO says just one case constitutes an outbreak and must be dealt with rapidly. Otherwise, it says, the crippling disease could spread like wildfire.
Rosenbauer said the risk of the international spread of polio cannot be ruled out; but, he added that since there is almost universal immunization coverage of children in other European countries, the risk is relatively low.
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