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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Polio vaccination day draws huge crowds

Polio vaccination day draws huge crowds

K ANDAL - The little three-year-old girl had a look of calm and expectation on her

face, but that suddenly disappeared when she was given the droplets of polio vaccine.

She scowled with disgust and vanished into the crowd.

This scene was - more or less - repeated thousands of times during the first national

polio immunization day on February 11. By the time the second immunization day is

over on March 11, health workers expect that as many as 3.74 million children will

- like the little Kandal girl - know exactly what the medicine tastes like.

This year's campaign is expected to be the death knell for a disease that has caused

more Cambodian children to become handicapped than those maimed by landmines.

Underwritten by the Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the

Japanese and Australian governments, and Rotary International, about 4.6 million

droplets of oral polio vaccine are expected to be distributed.

About 5,000 health workers and 40,000 volunteers worked on February 11, including

- to the delight of television producers - Second Prime Minister Hun Sen and his

wife, and Co-Interior Minister Sar Kheng among others.

The build-up to the first immunization day appeared to be a public relations and

logistical triumph. To advertise the immunization day, planners prepared 70,000 posters,

two million leaflets and an unrelenting series of radio and television advertisements

which urged mothers to bring their children to the nearest vaccination post.

They came, as witnessed at Kandal, in droves.

The volunteers worked from dawn to mid-morning. For the remainder of the day, they

said, they would go from house to house vaccinating those children who had not shown

up in the morning.

They said that more than two-thirds of the children who had been pre-registered had

turned up at the vaccination stations.

According to conservative estimates published by UNICEF, in Cambodia, the number

of expected cases of polio is over 1,000 a year. UNICEF also said the disease was

"the most common cause of handicap among children," accounting for "almost

half of all disabilities in the under-15 age group."

The aim behind the immunization days, explained health experts, is to vaccinate all

susceptible children in one shot, thus making it virtually impossible for the wild

polio virus to find a human host.

They are confident that the two national immunization days - along with the

Ministry of Health's routine immunization program to combat polio - puts Cambodia

on course to meet WHO's goal of global polio eradication of the disease by 2000.

Polio, a crippling disease which strikes primarily in tropical climates and is caused

by poor sanitation, has been wiped out in most countries. However, cases still linger

in Africa and Asia.



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