HEALTH: Polio vaccination gets underway in Kenya

A child being immunised against rubella. PHOTO/UNICEFKenya/2021/Nyaberi.

The second phase of polio vaccination campaign is ongoing in Kenya this week.

This is done because polio is a dangerous and highly infectious disease.

It can cause paralysis, lifelong disability and even death in some cases.

Wild polio has been eradicated in all countries across the globe except just two, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It was eradicated in Kenya in 2014.

However, a form of virus that occurs in communities with under-immunized populations was detected this year by the Ministry of Health (MoH) surveillance teams in Mombasa and Garissa.

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe reiterated the government’s commitment to stopping the spread of polio in the country through a widespread and comprehensive immunization drive.

“The government of Kenya is continuing to take urgent action to stop polio in its tracks and save children’s lives,” he said.

“After a successful first round of the polio vaccination campaign in May, we are now looking forward to finishing this important job in round two this month,” said the CS.

Kenya remains at risk of polio outbreaks due to low immunization coverage resulting from the interruption in vaccination schedules.

The current state of affairs is attributed to by the interruption in immunization that occurred after the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

Other risk factors include the country’s porous borders with high risk countries and high rate of movement among nomadic communities in these areas, as well as travel from these regions to urban areas and back.

Between 2018 and 2020, around 300,000 children in the 13 counties that have been identified as high risk had missed out on their three expected rounds of routine polio vaccination as part of their routine childhood vaccinations.

According to World Health Organization country representative Dr Rudi Eggers, the the disease poses a lifelong risk to children who are yet to be vaccinated.

“Polio poses a lifelong, damaging risk to children,” said Dr Eggers in Nairobi on July 18.

Dr Eggers said the WHO plans to ensure that the disease is eradicated from the world, adding that vaccination in a key plank in this strategy.

“Our plan as the WHO is to achieve and sustain a polio-free world and vaccination is one of our core eradication strategies,” he said.

On his part, CS Kagwe said the ministry intended to reach the children in the targeted areas to reduce the risk of fresh polio outbreaks in the country.

“If one child tests positive for polio, 200,000 other children are considered by the WHO to be at risk of contracting the virus. We must now work together to reach every child with immunization in order to eliminate polio in Kenya,” said Mr Kagwe

At least 3 million children spread across 13 counties will receive the polio dose in the door-to-door campaign.

The targeted counties in the exercise are Garissa, Isiolo, Kajiado, Kiambu Kilifi, Kitui, Lamu, Machakos, Mandera, Mombasa, Nairobi, Tana River ans Wajir.

Health personnel dressed in clearly labelled Ministry of Health insignia on their uniforms are already on the ground in most of Nairobi’s residential areas and other targeted regions as the campaign gets underway.

In May, the first round of the vaccination campaign managed to reach 3.2 million children, representing 93 percent of the target population.

It is these children that the government intends to reach with the second dose of the polio vaccine.

The Ministry of Health is carrying out the immunization drive with the support of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) and the Canadian government.

WHO is supporting the campaign through operational funds and technical guidance. The UN body has been at the core of supporting polio prevention through offering technical assistance for teams working in the country’s health system to maintain high surveillance standards.

The UN health body’s support for Kenya also includes carrying out active case searches in health facilities, monitoring and evaluation of the polio situation in the country, as well as facilitation of laboratory work related to the disease.

Unicef country representative Maniza Zaman said children were at risk of infection as long as there were cases of infection.

“Polio is a devastating childhood disease and as long as one child has polio, no child is safe,” said Ms Zaman.

She stressed on the importance of all children being vaccinated as the best way to seek protection from the disease and bring its incidence to an end in the country.

Ms Zaman further urged all the families in the targeted areas to ensure that their children aged under five years of age get the required dose.

“To eradicate polio, all children in households must be immunized. Unicef is urging all households in the affected areas to ensure that all the children aged below five are vaccinated,” said the Unicef country boss.

Meanwhile the Ministry of Health is urging all parents in the affected areas whose children are reporting weakness to take them to the nearest health facility for medical attention.

Dr Eggers expressed his gratitude to the government for its cooperation and determination to ensure that as many Kenyan children as possible were protected from the disease through immunization.

“We appreciate the government and our partners for prioritizing and supporting this effort through this campaign and other efforts,” he said. “WHO support over the years has helped in sustaining surveillance standards at all times and detecting the presence of the dangerous virus, as happened recently,” he added.

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