Robin Obino and George Kebaso @PeopleDailyKe
The government has announced a new round of polio vaccination targeting two million children. A vaccination programme is scheduled for May 9-13.
It targets 12 high risk counties. The decision was arrived at after intensified campaigns involving environmental surveillance showed traces of the virus (vaccine derived virus) from sewerage samples in Somalia and Kenya in the sprawling Eastleigh estate.
In January last year, Kenya was on the verge of being declared a polio-free country this year when it rolled out a vaccination programme in 15 counties thought to have been with high burden of the disease.
Director of Medical Services at the Ministry of Health Dr Jackson Kioko has however, allayed fears there was an outbreak to merit panic saying that plans are underway to conduct three Supplemental Polio Immunisation activities (SIAs) targeting high-risk counties.
“The isolation of circulating vaccine derived polio virus type 2 (cVDPV2) in four environmental samples in late 2017 and early 2018 in Banadir, Somalia and recently in Eastleigh, Nairobi is a major setback.
These cVDPVs in the environment, as potential causes of poliomyelitis, should raise concerns with regards to our vaccination coverage and the number of susceptible individuals potentially at increased risk of infection,” said Kioko at the opening of the 17th Polio Horn of Africa Technical Advisory Group (HOA TAG) conference in Nairobi yesterday.
He said the isolation of polio viruses from environmental samples demonstrates that the country’s polio environmental surveillance system is sensitive and functional. “However, there is need to strengthen our acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) surveillance indicator as well as routine immunisation activities.
To eradicate polio, we need to stop all strains of the virus, including vaccine-derived polio viruses,” he added. The DMS said the industrial strikes that hit the health sector in much of 2017 and the electioneering period affected vaccinations resulting to a decline of 20 per cent, from 90 per cent to 70 per cent.
Subsequently, the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) has appealed to leaders, communities and families to avail children aged below five years for vaccination during campaign.
“For Kenya, we look up to the leadership and commitment by the Health ministry and partners to address the current outbreak. The capacity in country and support of partners, is available to reverse the declining immunisation coverage,” said Unicef Deputy Representative for Kenya, Patrizia Di Giovanni.
The concern to combat polio before it becomes an outbreak, she said stems from the isolation in environmental samples in Somalia and Kenya between October 2017 and now. “But while this shows the effectiveness of the environmental surveillance system in these countries, this is further evidence that non-polio AFP surveillance and routine immunization systems have gaps that require fixing,” Giovanni added.
The current outbreak, Kioko and Giovanni said should spur the government and partners into a sense of urgency to ensure that the gains made over decades in meeting the Global Polio Eradication targets are not reversed. Kioko however said that of concern also, is that the isolation of the circulating vaccine derived virus in Syria, Pakistan, Nigeria and DRC saying the continued circulation of the polio virus is a major Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).
Kioko said although polio cases had drastically reduced following the launch of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative 30 years ago, the isolation of cVDPV2 in four environmental samples in late 2017 and early 2018 in Banadir, Somalia and recently in Eastleigh, Nairobi-Kenya was a major setback.
“During this period, a lot has been achieved in terms of reducing the number of polio cases by 99 percent and the number of affected countries by the same percentage. However, despite these successes, our original goal of polio eradication by the year 2000 still remains elusive even today.
The disease that has paralyzed and killed children for thousands of years still remains among us, threatening futures,” he said. Kioko said the upcoming vaccination exercise is aimed at tackling the challenges that have hindered HoA countries from achieving the desired results in the polio eradication campaign.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) data, only three countries remain on the global endemic list; Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria. However, the threat of poliovirus re-emergence remains very real, particularly for countries with a history of importation of poliovirus from these endemic areas.