Some two million children in Uganda will be targeted in a United Nations-backed immunization campaign beginning on Saturday after an outbreak of polio was detected in the country last month.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) will work alongside the Ugandan Ministry of Health in administering the first round of supplemental polio immunizations to children under the age of five during the three-day campaign.
“Over the next three months, children under the age of 5 will be given three doses of the oral polio vaccine regardless of previous immunization status. It is vital to remember that one dose is not enough,” said UNICEF’s Country Representative, Dr. Sharad Sapra.
Dr. Joaquim Saweka, the WHO Representative in Uganda, also pointed out the importance of immunization campaigns to keep polio at bay.
“Over the last few years there has been a significant spread of the disease throughout the region, primarily coming from Nigeria. But due to strong commitment from African Governments and coordinated mass immunization campaigns, the spread of the disease is gradually being halted. Polio can and will be a disease of the past in Africa,” he said.
Although Uganda was declared polio free in 2006, there have been two outbreaks in the last two years, with a lack of money for routine immunizations one of the main reasons for a drop in vaccination coverage between 2009 and 2010 from 83 per cent to 76 per cent. In October, a two year-old girl was diagnosed with the disease.
“Do not underestimate the fact that there was only one case of polio diagnosed,” said Ugandan Minister of Health, Dr. Stephen Mallinga. “Seventy-five per cent of polio carriers do not show any symptoms but they can still spread the disease. This is why we are mobilizing this rapid response without any delay.
“We are determined to contain this outbreak so that Uganda will once again be declared polio free.”
Polio, a highly infectious disease, enters the body through the mouth, through water or food contaminated by an infected person. There is no cure and the disease spreads rapidly among un-immunized populations, although with immunization its spread can be prevented.
If a child receives the oral polio vaccine (OPV) at least three times, at an interval of four weeks, they are protected for life. Globally since 1988, there has been a 99 per cent reduction in polio cases due to this vaccine.
Two more polio immunization rounds will take place in Uganda from 11 to 13 December and from 15 to 17 January 2011. Health workers are also being mobilized in the target districts to educate mothers and community members about the safety and life saving effects of the polio vaccine.