Kenya this week kicked off a five-day national polio vaccination campaign in areas with greatest risk of transmission as the United Nations warned that outbreaks in some countries in the Horn of Africa threaten Africa’s and global efforts to eradicate the disease.
According to the WHO, since late 2017, Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia have experienced outbreaks of polio.
The global polio eradication effort is striving to ensure polio transmissions stop in the remaining endemic countries in the world, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria and in polio affected countries like Kenya.
The WHO said some countries especially in Africa, are more vulnerable to polio transmission due to weak public health and immunisation systems as well as travel or trade links to endemic and outbreak countries.
Kenya targets 2.6 million children aged 0-59 months in 11 counties with the high risk of infection during this campaign that ended Wednesday.
The children were given oral polio vaccine which protects them from poliomyelitis, a disease that paralyses and even kills infants.
“In 2018, Kenya detected the poliovirus in sewage samples taken from Kamukunji in Nairobi, and as part of the activities to protect children from the virus and increase population immunity, five rounds of polio vaccination campaign were conducted in 12 counties,” WHO representative Dr Iheoma Onuekwusi said during the launch of the campaign in Mombasa.
“And in polio outbreak affected countries like Kenya, as long as there are still counties in which the wild polio virus is circulating, every country is still at risk of importing the polio virus. The primary underlying challenge us the last lap to polio eradication is missing children time and time again in the delivery of vaccines,” warned Dr Onuekwusi.
Can cause paralysis
Health workers team and Community Volunteers carried out the exercise in homes, churches, mosques, schools, recreational places and other congressional centres.
Kenya’s acting director general for health, Dr Wekesa Masasabi said children less than five years are particularly vulnerable to diseases because their immunity is not fully developed to fight them.
Dr Masasabi said for the last six years, Kenya has remained polio-free with the last imported wild polio virus case was reported in July 14 in 2013. Currently, Afghanistan and Pakistan remain polio-endemic, down from more than 125 countries in 1988.
“During the outbreak in 2013 in Garissa County, 14 people were paralysed and resulted into two deaths. Concerted global efforts have been put in place to eradicate polio,” the director general of health insisted in a speech read on his behalf by Dr Joel Gondi, technical advisor to the director at the ministry.
Polio is a highly infectious viral disease, transmitted person-to-person and spread mainly through the faecal-oral route or, less frequently, in contaminated water or food.
It multiplies in the intestine, from where it can invade the nervous system and can cause paralysis. According to WHO, initial symptoms of polio include fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness in the neck, and pain in the limbs.