Kenya reacts to fresh polio threat

March 19, 2009 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 19 – Parents have been asked to take children below five years for free polio immunisation in a nationwide campaign that kicks off on Saturday through to Wednesday next week.

Director of Public Health Dr Shahnaaz Shariff on Thursday advised parents and guardians to have their children immunised irrespective of their immunisation status.

“Even if a child was immunised a day before in the routine immunisation, let them be immunised again in the nationwide campaign,” Dr Shariff said.

“And I must make it clear that this will be done for free; I know Kenya is a very corrupt society so don’t be cheated to pay,” he added.

The exercise follows a fresh scare of polio outbreak in the country after two cases of wild polio virus type 1 were confirmed in Lokichogio, Turkana North district last month but said to be an importation from Southern Sudan.

The first outbreak of imported polio in Kenya was in 2006, and it was reported to be from Somalia.

The door-to-door exercise now targets to reach two million children in Kenya and would be conducted simultaneously with Uganda, Ethiopia and Southern Sudan which are also at risk of the disease. Static points would also be established within hospitals in areas where door-to-door campaigns are not possible.

It will cost the government Sh113 million to conduct the exercise countrywide. Nairobi, Central and Rift Valley provinces have been ranked as the highest at risk.

“The classification of high risk areas was based on scientific evidence, not political,” said Dr Shariff.

According to the Ministry of Public Health, the two girls who were reported to have contracted polio in February may suffer some permanent paralysis although they are showing signs of recovery.

Kenya was to be classified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as polio-free because the last indigenous case of the disease in the country was reported in 1984 but the recent cases and low immunisation coverage have delayed the declaration.

“Border points are a big headache because that is where the disease has come from. We advice all countries to ensure they have routine immunisation for preventable diseases. You don’t have to wait for an outbreak to react,” WHO Country Representative, Dr David Okello said.

He raised concern that there was low immunisation coverage for preventable diseases saying the routine immunisation coverage for diseases like polio had gone down by about 20 percent to reach 60 percent.

Dr Okello said creation of new districts and splitting of the Ministry of Health was part of the problem because it had complicated the ability to offer health services.

He called on the government to ensure high coverage of routine immunisation to prevent outbreaks of preventable diseases.


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