Ukraine: UN agencies call for urgent action to stop spread of polio virus

4 September 2015

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) called today on parents in Ukraine to vaccinate their children following a confirmed polio outbreak in the country.

“The only effective way to protect children from polio is vaccination,” stressed UNICEF’s representative in Ukraine, Giovanna Barberis, in a press release. “The available vaccines supplied by UNICEF should be used as soon as possible to ensure children are protected from polio in Ukraine.”

Polio is an infectious disease that can cause paralysis or even death.

Aid organizations have been facing major challenges in getting access to the most vulnerable of an estimated 5 million people affected by conflict, which began in the region in April 2014.

The two cases of polio so far are children living in Zakarpatska oblast, one aged 10 months and the other aged 4 years, who were not vaccinated and have become paralyzed. The UN health agency said this occurred because of the chronically low immunization coverage in Ukraine.

However, it also underlined that these outbreaks can be stopped by rapidly immunizing children with the oral polio vaccines (OPV). Currently, the awareness among Ukrainians about the risks of the disease is reportedly low: only 18 per cent of Ukrainian mothers think that polio is an acute dangerous disease and only 27 per cent know that it bears the risk of paralysis, according to a UNICEF/WHO survey conducted last year.

“WHO recommends large-scale immunization activity. The quality of the polio vaccine provided to Ukraine is in line with WHO pre-qualification standards. It is safe and effective and ready to be distributed and used,” said Dorit Nitzan, Head of the WHO Country Office.

“I appeal to families to promptly bring their children for immunization, as soon as the Ministry of Health begins the immunization campaign over the coming days and weeks,” she added.

Indeed, UNICEF and WHO experts are working closely with the Ministry of Health to provide a “quick and robust” response in order to rapidly stop the circulation of the virus.

Half of the total amount of 4.8 million polio vaccines, provided by UNICEF with the support of the Government of Canada, are already in Ukraine and will shortly be distributed by the Ministry.


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