, NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 6 – Insecurity in Turkana is hampering immunisation exercise and as such threatening the health of Kenyan children, according to the Ministry of Public Health.
Permanent Secretary Mark Borr said on Thursday that the high insecurity had made it impossible for health workers to reach children in remote parts of the district for the emergency polio immunisation after the first case was reported in February.
“I have seen some (health workers) go to Pokot and they do not want to go outside Kapenguria because they are told somewhere, you may encounter cattle rustlers,” Mr Borr said.
“So you find officers remaining at the headquarters but the children are out there with their parents and sometimes they are mobile,” he added.
Public Health Minister Beth Mugo said despite having the three emergency polio campaigns as recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) more cases had been reported, the number rising to 17.
All the cases are in Turkana district and are said to be imported from Southern Sudan prompting the Ministry to conduct another two special rounds in 12 districts classified as high risk.
“The first round will begin on August 8 through to August12, while the second one will run from August 15-19 at a cost of Sh41 million,” Mrs Mugo said.
The Ministry said it was targeting about 350,000 children less than five years of age in the special round of campaigns.
The districts include Turkana North, Turkana Central, Turkana South, Samburu North, Samburu Central, Samburu East, Pokot West, Pokot East, Pokot Central, Baringo Central and Baringo East.
She said the previous campaigns had been a success with an average national coverage of 90 percent. However the Turkana region remained a challenge with coverage of between 40 and 60 percent.
The three rounds of emergency polio vaccination were done at a cost of Sh300 million which was given by various development partners between March and May this year,
Kenya has been classified as polio free for the last 20 years and according to the WHO, one reported case in the country is termed as an outbreak.
WHO Kenya representative Dr David Okello said the prevailing drought conditions were also a challenge in reaching parts of the country.
“They have no water, they have no food and you go out to give them polio vaccination they wonder whether you understand their problems,” Dr Okello said.
He also attributed the new cases to low routine immunisation coverage in the region because people there do not consider it important.
“It is not just for polio but most parents and guardians don’t take their children for other recommended vaccinations because they don’t understand their relevance,” he said.
WHO defines polio as a highly infectious viral disease, which mainly affects young children.
The virus is transmitted through contaminated food and water, and multiplies in the intestine, from where it can invade the nervous system. Many infected people have no symptoms, but do excrete the virus in their faeces, hence transmitting infection to others.
Initial symptoms of polio include fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness in the neck, and pain in the limbs. In a small proportion of cases, the disease causes paralysis, which is often permanent. Polio can only be prevented by immunisation.