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Polio campaign still hinges on joint agreement between Sudan, SPLM-N

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October 24, 2013 (KHARTOUM) – The United Nations resident and humanitarian coordinator in Sudan, Ali Al-Za’tari, has urged all parties involved in the conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Niles states to set aside their political differences and allow a polio vaccination campaign to begin on schedule next month.

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An aid workers administers a polio vaccine to a Sudanese boy (Photo: AFP)

Al-Za’tari made the remarks in a statement released to mark World Polio Day on Thursday.

He confirmed that the Sudanese government had officially signed off on the terms of an agreement for a polio vaccination campaign due to get underway in the two areas on 5 November, but made no mention of a deal with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), suggesting the rebel group had yet to give the green light to start the campaign aiming to immunise children under five against polio and vitamin A deficiency.

“It is vital that every effort is made to ensure that this campaign goes ahead in November as planned”, Al-Za’tari said in the statement.

“Sudan’s future lies in the health of its children. This is an opportunity for all parties to put children’s health before politics and to ensure that this campaign goes ahead without delay”, he added.

Sudan was recently declared polio free, but outbreaks have been reoccurring in East Africa since April.

Three cases of polio have been detected in South Sudan - two in Northern Bahr el Ghazal and one in Eastern Equatoria and there are fears the virus may spread to Sudan.

The World Health Organisation (WHO), UNICEF and Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) have long been working to put in place plans to deliver the two-week campaign, but the process has been painfully slow due to ongoing disagreements between the parties involved.

Negotiations received a boost last month after the SPLM-N dropped its demand that the operation be conducted cross-border from Ethiopia or Kenya.

The campaign will include rebel-held areas in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, where no immunisation programmes have been carried out since the military conflict began in 2011.

Earlier this month, the Sudanese Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC) announced that it had reached an agreement with the members of the tripartite initiative - UN, African Union (AU) and Arab league - to carry out the vaccination operation.

The Sudanese government confirmed it would cease hostilities for two weeks next month in South Kordofan to allow the conduct of a vaccination campaign.

However, the SPLM-N has yet to outline arrangements for a temporary ceasefire agreement.

The two parties have also yet to agree on the mode of transporting vaccines and the local humanitarian workers who will participate in the operation.

The SPLM-N has demanded that the Sudanese government participate in direct talks on the AU-brokered humanitarian truce, but Khartoum refused the request, saying indirect talks through members of the tripartite are sufficient.

The vaccination campaign will target some 147,700 children in South Kordofan and 7000 in Blue Nile.

(ST)

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