Mass immunizations begin as fear of polio outbreak hits Uganda

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In response to the number of polio cases detected in the Bugiri district, in
eastern Uganda in mid-October 2010, the Ministry of Health, WHO and
UNICEF will begin a first round of supplemental polio immunizations
from Saturday November 20 to Monday November 22.

“Over two million children up to age 5 will be immunized in 48 high risk
districts in east, north eastern and northern Uganda,” said Dr. Stephen Mallinga, Ugandan Minister of Health. “We are determined to contain this outbreak so that Uganda will once again be declared polio free.”

Polio is a highly infectious disease entering the body through the mouth, in
water or food contaminated with faecal material from an infected person. The
disease spreads rapidly in un-immunized or inadequately immunized populations, especially children. Polio causes total paralysis and in some cases it can be fatal.

Notwithstanding the lack of cure, the spread of polio can be prevented through safe, effective and easily administered vaccines. Immunizing a child for life involves the administration of the oral polio vaccine (OPV) at least
three times, at an interval of 4 weeks.

Globally since 1988, there has been a 99% reduction in polio cases due to this vaccine.

“Community health workers will be going house to house to immunize every
child below 5 years of age who is at risk,” said Dr. Sharad Sapra, UNICEF
Country Representative. “Over the next three months, children under the age of 5 will be given three doses of the oral polio vaccine regardless of previous immunization status. It is vital to remember that one dose is not enough.”

Last October, a two year old girl was diagnosed with polio. This is the second
outbreak in two years.

“Do not underestimate the fact that there was only one case of polio diagnosed,” said Mallinga. “75% of polio carriers do not show any symptoms but they can still spread the disease. This is why we are mobilizing this rapid response without any delay.”

Uganda was first declared polio free in 2006 but outbreaks have been attributed to importations from neighbouring countries and also to lack of funding and resources for routine immunization coverage. The Ministry of Health reported a drop in vaccination coverage from 83% in 2008/9 to 76% 2009/10.

“This latest case of polio demonstrates the importance of sustained and routine immunization campaigns, not only in Uganda but in the whole of Africa,” said Dr. Joaquim Saweka, WHO Country Representative.

“Over the last few years there has been a significant spread of the disease throughout the region, primarily coming from Nigeria. But due to strong commitment from African governments and coordinated mass immunization campaigns, the spread of the disease is gradually being halted. Polio can and will be a disease of the past in Africa.”

Two more immunization rounds against polio will take place on December 11
– 13 and January 15-17, 2011. Health workers are also being mobilized in the targeted districts to educate mothers and community members about the safety and life saving effects of the polio vaccine.

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