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Why Polio Campaigns Must Reach Every Last Child in Kenya 0

Nairobi (Kenya) – For a long time, no person in Kenya suffered the devastating disability that is caused by polio. In fact, the only reminder in the early 2000s was the victims in the streets of Nairobi, many of whom had been paralyzed as children and adults. Their lives were ravaged by this terrible, vaccine-preventable disease.

Sadly, in 2013 a large outbreak of polio in Nigeria spread across the continent, affecting several countries on its way east. Kenya was not spared.  Fourteen new polio cases were confirmed. The polio virus struck those that were unvaccinated – the most vulnerable and the most excluded — children in areas with poor access to health services, refugees, and nomadic communities.  Fortunately, a rapid response by the Kenyan Government brought the polio outbreak under control, and the last case was reported in July 2013.  At that time, it seemed that the country was well on the road to being declared polio-free.

However, recently, concerned scientists have pointed to the increasing risk of polio, particularly the large numbers of children who remain unvaccinated, especially those in vulnerable populations in the northern part of the country and in the informal settlements of Nairobi and Mombasa.  Furthermore, the notion that the African continent was free from the polio virus was shattered when four new polio cases were reported in northern Nigeria. Given the previous experience, health experts and Ministries of Health recommended that the areas with low vaccination rates should be targeted with vaccination campaigns, specifically designed to reach those that missed out on the routine vaccinations.

Since the establishment of the Expanded Programme of Immunization (EPI) in 1980, Kenya deserves credit for reaching majority of the children with life-saving vaccines. But there is still a lot more work that needs to be done; progress in the country is very uneven and many children remain unvaccinated. It is estimated that 400,000 (3 out of 10) children still do not receive all the required scheduled doses of vaccines by their first birthday. This build-up of under-immunized children has previously contributed to outbreaks of polio. Most of these children come from poor families, the urban informal settlements and the hard-to-reach parts of the country, particularly arid and semi-arid (ASAL) regions where access to health services is limited.

Continue reading on Ips Africa

By Rudi Eggers, WHO Country Representative in Kenya and Werner Schultink is UNICEF Representative in Kenya.

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