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Kenya issues polio alert

NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 25 – The government issued a fresh polio alert on Wednesday while admitting that there had been constant shortages of BCG and Polio vaccines in the country since mid last year.

This followed a confirmed case of a four-year-old girl in Lokichoggio, Turkana North District, while a second case involving a one-year-old child was under investigation at the National Institute of Communicable Diseases laboratory in South Africa.

The confirmed case of Wild Polio Virus type 1 is said to be an importation from Southern Sudan.

Director of Public Health Dr Shahnaaz Shariff said the government now required Sh5 million to conduct emergency campaigns in the affected areas.

“It will be done in two rounds tentatively from early March, because it has to coincide with the rounds in Southern Sudan, Eastern Uganda and Ethiopia, which are also affected,” Dr Shariff said.

“Mothers in Kenya should be worried because one case of polio is considered as an outbreak,” he added.

The campaign will include mobile house to house strategies covering all manyattas (homesteads) and fixed posts to reach a target of close to 100,000 children in Turkana district under five years old.

He defended the regular vaccine stock out saying it was an international crisis.

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“There has been a vaccine shortage internationally because about four major vaccine manufacturers in India have been stopped due to quality, and there has also been a fluctuation in foreign exchange,” he said.

“Our agreement with UNICEF on vaccines also expired in December 2007 and it took about six months to renew the vaccine agreement.”

Dr Shariff said that they would get medical supplies from the World Health Organisation (WHO), which has stocks in Democratic Republic of Congo.

WHO recommends that an emergency vaccination campaign be conducted four weeks after a reported polio outbreak to contain the disease.

WHO Country representative, Dr David Okello recommended that Kenya scales up its routine immunisation to ensure it remains polio free.

“Since about the time of the post election disturbances, we have noticed a slackening in routine immunisation in many parts of the country,” Dr Okello said.

“We were doing very well at the end of 2007, our coverage had gone up but I must say things have started weakening and there are many children who are not covered by our routine immunisation.”

Dr Okello said that although Kenya was considered the best across Africa in some areas of immunisation, the coverage had now come down to about 60 percent in some parts of the country, which is far below the 80 percent coverage recommended by the global health body.

“That is why our children are being infected by imported polio,” he said and added, “If we are not protected by routine immunisation we will remain at risk because there is a lot of movement between countries.”

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Kenya has remained polio free for the last 20 years owing to intensified polio campaigns.

Polio is a viral disease of the nervous system with a tendency of causing sudden weakness of the legs and arms, causing paralysis, but is controlled through immunisation which is given routinely at birth and then at six weeks, 10 weeks and 14 weeks.


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