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Emergency polio campaign in Africa

International aid groups are launching a mass polio immunisation campaign in three central African nations to combat an outbreak which is believed to have killed more than 100 people.

The outbreak has been deemed "unusual" because it is targeting adults more than children.

The World Health Organisation, Unicef and Rotary International will begin vaccinating around three million people in the Republic of Congo, its larger neighbour Congo and nearby Angola. The outbreak of the highly infectious disease was confirmed on November 4 in the Republic of Congo.

Emergency immunisations will begin in the coastal port city of Pointe Noire in the Republic of Congo and will continue until the end of the year.

The agencies said they had counted 97 deaths out of 226 cases of acute paralysis that were suspected to be polio cases. They noted that of those, four had been confirmed as polio.

The groups also expressed concern that young adults aged between 15 and 29 were being affected. Health officials in the Republic of Congo said some patients were as old as 43. Polio, which can cause lifelong paralysis, is considered a childhood disease.

The impact on older patients, WHO's Africa director said, demonstrated that the population did not have full immunity.

"Every man, every woman, every child will be immunised irrespective of their past immunisation status," said Dr Luis Sambo, WHO's regional director for Africa.

"This way we can be assured that everybody is reached, including young adults, whose immunity may be low."

Last month WHO launched a 15-country Africa campaign, beginning in Angola and the larger Congo, which together had seen more than 50 cases. Its volunteer campaign also focuses on West Africa, where Nigeria, the most populous nation in sub-Saharan Africa, has never managed to eradicate the disease.

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