Polio vaccine drive targets refugees, host communities 

Thursday September 7 2017

A baby is vaccinated in Pader, northern Uganda.

A baby is vaccinated in Pader, northern Uganda. PHOTO | FILE 

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As part of efforts to minimise a possible recurrence of polio in Uganda, the Ministry of Health will conduct a door-to-door vaccination drive for all children in communities hosting refugees.

Uganda reported the last case of the polio virus in 2006, but with the recent influx of refugees, especially those fleeing South Sudan, the risk of the disease re-entering the country are high, according to Tabley Basajjatebadiba, the Assistant Commissioner for Health Services. 

The vaccination, to be conducted between September 9 and 11, targets 5,753,301 children, including those who have previously been vaccinated.

Polio is a highly infectious viral disease, which mainly affects children under the age of five.

The virus can be transmitted person-to-person, or spread through contaminated water or food. It multiplies in the intestine, from where it can invade the nervous system and cause paralysis, which is often permanent.

Because there is no cure for polio, it can only be prevented by immunisation. Symptoms of the disease include fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting and stiffness in the neck.

A total of 72 districts, including those hosting refugees in West Nile, the north and western parts of the country, and districts where general immunisation remains low have been identified as the key targets for this campaign.

“Conflict and insecurity continue to prevent children from accessing immunisation services in countries such as Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan.

Uganda has a big number of children from South Sudan, which increases the risk spreading the disease,” said Basajjatebadiba.

Children will be given a combined shot of the oral and injectable polio vaccine which, according to health workers, offers better protection and immunity to children against the disease.

“Injectable polio vaccine strengthens immunity in the blood while oral polio vaccine strengthens immunity in the gut,” said Basajjatebadiba.

The World Health Organisation introduced the injectable polio vaccine into routine immunisation programmes in April 2016, as part of a global plan to eradicate polio since it protects children against three strains of the poliovirus.

Global cases of polio cases have declined by over 90 per cent since 1988, with only 37 cases reported in 2016.