Senior UN official to visit DR Congo ahead of mass vaccination for polio outbreak

With a polio outbreak rapidly spreading in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the head of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) begins a four-day visit tomorrow to meet with key government officials ahead of a mass campaign to vaccinate over 14 million children.

“UNICEF will do everything we can to support the DRC’s collective effort to defeat this evil virus once and for all,” UNICEF’s Executive Director, Anthony Lake, said from Brussels ahead of the visit. “Eradicating polio in DRC and everywhere requires an absolute commitment by government and its partners to vaccinate every child.”

The DRC has witnessed a sharp resurgence of polio as conditions in the country continue to complicate vaccination efforts, potentially undermining global eradication of the crippling disease. From January 2010 to February 2011, there were 112 new cases. In 2009, only three cases were detected.

In response, preparations are underway to go door to door to vaccinate more than 14 million children by the end of May. The aim is to make sure that no child is left unprotected.

This is Mr. Lake’s second visit in 2011 to support polio eradication in western Africa. At the end of January, he was in Angola where a major outbreak has spread into two neighbouring countries.

In the second part of his current mission, he will travel to eastern DRC to meet with survivors of sexual violence and children affected by the conflict, as well as volunteers and partners working on the crisis.

An estimated 200,000 women have been raped in the DRC during the last 12 years. Since the beginning of 2011, 120 alleged cases of rape have been perpetrated by both rebels and the national army in the country’s east, where more than 300 civilians, including some boys and men, were raped in a single weekend last summer by members of rebel armed groups.

Earlier this month, in a move welcomed by the UN, a DRC national army commander, Lt. Col. Kibibi Mutware, was jailed for 20 years after being found guilty of crimes against humanity for sending his troops to rape, beat and loot the population of Fizi during the night of 1-2 January 2011. Judges also sentenced three officers serving under the commander to 20 years in jail and five soldiers to between 10 and 15 years.

It was the first time that a high-ranking commander and several other personnel serving with the Congolese national armed forces were arrested, tried and sentenced for conflict-related sexual violence.

Since 1999 UN peacekeeping missions in the DRC have overseen the vast country’s emergence from years of civil war and factional chaos, culminating most notably in 2006 with the first democratic elections in over four decades.

But fighting has continued with various rebel forces amid frequent reports of rape and other abuses in the east, where the bulk of UN forces, currently comprising over 19,000 uniformed personnel, are deployed.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=37643&Cr=polio&Cr1=

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