Casualties of War

In Congo, civil strife allows polio to survive

There are problems, of course. A UNICEF report says that 12 zones are inaccessible due to "insecurity." Mogwanja, however, believes most of these can be reached from the rebel side.

On day three, the bad news hits. Fabre's hunch was right: The supplies for Equateur province, including about a million doses of vaccine, were indeed in the divided town of Kisangani. Now, fresh fighting has broken out between the rebel factions. Mothers and children are trapped in vaccination sites, terrified to set foot in streets thick with bullets. Just as bad, the vaccine hasn't left town. About a million children—a million hosts to harbor the polio virus and keep it alive on this earth—live in the territories of Equateur province, where the stranded vaccine should have gone, and almost a third of Kisangani's children didn't get immunized.

In Kisangani, the wounded need care. In some areas, disrupted water supplies raise the specter of cholera and other disease, as do putrefying bodies. And while fighting has subsided, the city remains hair-trigger tense. So the polio vaccinations, says Abou Moudi, head of WHO's office in the DRC, will have to wait.

Immunizing a child in Kinshasa: “We could vaccinate everybody,” says one who official, "if there is peace."
photo: Mark Schoofs
Immunizing a child in Kinshasa: “We could vaccinate everybody,” says one who official, "if there is peace."

Two more rounds of immunization days are scheduled for the DRC: one each in September and October. Moudi is frustrated but emphatic. "We've been working on this for 11 months, and we could vaccinate everybody," he says. "If there is peace."

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