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Gambia commences polio immunization campaign

Sep 19, 2014, 10:07 AM | Article By: Abdou Rahman Sallah

Gambia has commenced in earnest the international polio vaccination campaign for under-5 children in the country.

Launched at the KMC grounds yesterday, the first round of the campaign will go on from 19 to 22 September 2014 and the second from 31 October to 3 November 2014 with a total target coverage of 416,740 children aged 0-5 years with two doses of oral polio vaccine.

The campaign is being promoted by Rotary Club of Fajara, the Health Ministry and the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Unicef.

In his launching statement on the occasion, Health Minister Omar Sey said the National Immunization is an international initiative to eradicate polio in the country.

According to him, the initiative was declared at the World Health Assembly meeting in May 1988 and in 1992 Gambia as a country also launched its own national polio eradication initiative which has four targets, namely vaccination at base and outreach clinics, active search for acute flaccid paralysis, and National Immunization Days and mop-up campaigns.

In 2013 The Gambia made tremendous progress under the polio eradication initiative in which two rounds of polio National Immunization Days were conducted and coverages all above 95%.

He said the overall goal of the EPI programme is to reduce childhood morbidity and mortality from vaccine preventable diseases, thus the EPI is immunizing routinely against eleven diseases, namely tuberculosis, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, measles, yellow fever, hepatitis B, and haemophilus influenza type b, pneumococcal diseases, Rota and poliomyelitis.

The campaign, he noted, had contributed significantly to the reduction of infant and childhood morbidity and mortality with a consistent high immunization coverage rates.

“This has contributed immensely to the country’s winning an award for maintaining high immunization over the past five years,” the health minister said.

Dr Sey also said that poliomyelitis is a vaccine preventable disease that kills and maims children for life, adding that WHO had estimated that about 265,000 children are needlessly crippled every year in the developing countries alone.

“If polio is eradiated a lot of family money that should have gone into treating and caring for a child suffering from the disease will be saved and utilized for other family needs,” he remarked.

Said Dr Sey: “In 2004 at a meeting of Africa Regional Certification committee held in Tanzania, The Gambia together with seven other countries were declared polio free. Despite this achievement however, the country is in a region where there is still circulation of the wild polio virus.”

WHO has recommended West African countries to conduct national polio campaigns targeting children less than 5 years.

This activity, according to the health minister, would be synchronized with several other countries in the sub-region to guard against the importation of the wild polio virus from those countries where the virus is still circulating.

WHO resident representative in The Gambia, Dr Charles Sagoe-Moses, in his remarks on the occasion, commended the Gambia government for its commitment to joining 13 other countries in the West African sub-region “who will synchronously participate in the Polio NIDs (National Immunization Days)"

These countries, he highlighted, are Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali Mauritania, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo, adding that out of these, three countries would not be joining the others “because of the Ebola outbreak” in those countries.

In her address on the occasion, Adam Wadda Jammeh, President of Fajara Rotary Club, whose international body is the main sponsor of the polio campaign, said they had kick-started another polio campaign to reaffirm their support and commitment to their noble cause.

“Since 1985, Rotary has led the battle against polio, and kept the pressure on as worldwide cases plunge from 350,000 per year to several hundreds,“ Mrs Jammeh said.

She also said when India went off the list of endemic countries in 2012, they took one more step towards eradicating a human disease from the earth for only the second time in history.

“Now, Rotary and its partners are this close to making that dream a reality,” the Fajara Rotary Club president added.

It has been more than 27 years since the last confirmed polio case was reported in The Gambia, she also recalled, saying that is enough time for people to become complacent about immunizations.

“But that would be a mistake – a potentially deadly mistake,” she warned, saying the public sometimes doesn’t understand why, after so many rounds of polio immunization,they are still being asked to bring their children to the immunization post.

“Winning community trust is vital to carry out the polio endgame plan worldwide. Rotary and its partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative are at the forefront,” she reiterated.

In his welcoming remarks, the deputy Mayor of KMC, Mr Jaiteh, said global statistics indicate that cases of polio have been remarkably low across the globe, but it is prudent for “us as a nation to intensify the campaigns efforts in eradicating the disease.”

He said the government of The Gambia, in collaboration with national, international, bilateral and multilateral agencies, is leaving no stone unturned in making sure every child counts in the planned polio immunization campaign.

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