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Two million Ugandan children targeted for polio immunizations


KAMPALA, - In response to the polio case detected in the Bugiri district in mid-October, the Ministry of Health, WHO and UNICEF will begin the first round of supplemental polio immunizations from Saturday November 20 to Monday November 22.

“Over two million children up to age 5 will be immunized in 48 high risk districts in east, north eastern and northern Uganda,” said Dr. Stephen Mallinga, Ugandan Minister of Health. “We are determined to contain this outbreak so that Uganda will once again be declared polio free.”

Polio is a highly infectious disease entering the body through the mouth, in water or food contaminated with faecal material from an infected person. The disease spreads rapidly in unimmunized or inadequately immunized populations, especially children. Polio causes total paralysis and in some cases it can be fatal.

However, despite there being no cure, the spread of polio can be prevented and this can only be done through immunization. The vaccine is safe, effective and easily administered. If a child receives the oral polio vaccine (OPV) at least three times, at an interval of 4 weeks, a child is protected for life. Globally since 1988, there has been a 99 per cent reduction in polio cases due to this vaccine.

“Community health workers will be going house to house to immunize every child below 5 years of age who is at risk,” said Dr. Sharad Sapra, UNICEF Country Representative. “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.”

Last October, a two year old girl was diagnosed with polio. This is the second outbreak in two years.

“Do not underestimate the fact that there was only one case of polio diagnosed,” said Mallinga. “75 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.”

Uganda was first declared polio free in 2006 but outbreaks have been attributed to importations from neighbouring countries and also to lack of funding and resources for routine immunization coverage. The Ministry of Health reported a drop in vaccination coverage from 83 per cent in 2008/9 to 76 per cent 2009/10.

“This latest case of polio demonstrates the importance of sustained and routine immunization campaigns, not only in Uganda but in the whole of Africa,” said Dr. Joaquim Saweka, WHO Country Representative. “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.”

Two more immunizations rounds against polio will take place on December 11 – 13 and January 15-17, 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.

UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

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