For a man facing more than his share of hurdles, Geert Cappelaerethe United Nations Children’s Fund representative in Sudan was sounding decidedly chipper. Geert Cappelaere has been working for months to get a polio vaccination campaign in rebel held areas of South Kordofan and Blue Nile.  But talks between the Sudanese government and representatives of the SPLM – North made little progress.

John Ging, the UN humanitarian chief, said that efforts to vaccinate 165,000 children against polio in Sudan had been blocked by the government and the rebels. In November Mr Ging said the two sides should stop “filibustering” and give health workers access to children in both states.

Now both sides have agreed to meet once more in Addis Ababa between 10 and 11 December for direct talks. “Both sides have made major steps forward,” says Mr Cappelaere. “We hope the Addis meeting will reach a conclusion.”

If Unicef is given a green light Mr Cappelaere says his people are ready to act. “Within two days of an agreement we can move; within two days children will be vaccinated,” he promises.

It would be an extremely important development. Aircraft and vehicles are ready and so are approximately 35 expatriate staff. They would work with some 750 volunteer health workers. Polio and vitamin A would be dispensed across the two states.

All that is required is an agreement to end the fighting. With a window of opportunity guaranteed by both sides Unicef says it is ready to act. “But,” warns Mr Cappelaere, “it is vital we act now. Polio could sweep through this vulnerable population if we don’t.”