Ministry of Health says it is targeting 8 856 591 children under the age of 15 with the oral polio vaccines in the first round of this year’s supplementary immunisation activity.
The fresh campaign follows the identification of four more cases of new wild poliovirus (WPV1) since February last year when the country registered two cases. Lilongwe and Blantyre have registered one case each while two others have been imported through Phalombe and Mulanje.
Speaking yesterday during the launch of the campaign in Ndirande Township, Blantyre, Minister of Health Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda said the target age range has shifted from the traditional zero to five years to zero to 15 because the Blantyre case involved a 14-year-old; hence, that group is at an increased risk of getting polio.
She said: “You can recall we recorded a case of a 14-year old child here in Blantyre. Just because of that with technical guidance from World Health Organisation [WHO], we have decided to increase the age to 15 so that we reach as many children as possible.”
During a press conference in Lilongwe on Tuesday, WHO extended programme on immunisation (EPI) officer Dr. Boston Zimba emphasised the importance of adjusting the target age range.
He said: “The country reported the first case of wild poliovirus outbreak in 2022 so we responded with four rounds of oral polio vaccine.
“However, in the course of time, four more cases were identified and three of these were in children below five years old while the fourth one was a 14-year-old child.
“Because of that, we have seen that there is increased risk of polio transmission in the country. We also identified samples in the environmental surveillance that we established, and that shows that the disease is still circulating.”
Centre for Diseases Control (CDC) country director Dr. Kesley Mirkovic said due to that threat, the United States government will continue to support the fight against polio by supporting the vaccination campaign.
“We are glad that the previous campaign covered 75 percent of the total targeted children. This time, we will ensure that no child suffers due to polio,” she said.
While commending the government for the effort in the fight against the disease, WHO country representative Neema Kanambo said there is need for collaboration among stakeholders.
“Let us report polio cases to avoid transmission and also strengthen the reach in the districts where coverage was weak in the previous campaign,” she said.
Traditional Authority Kapeni asked for active involvement of the village leaders whenever such campaigns are being organised so that they can influence their subjects and increase uptake of the vaccine.
So far, turnout has been impressive in Mangochi, Karonga, Nsanje and Blantyre, according to officials.
According to CDC, poliovirus is contagious and spreads through person-to-person contact. It lives in an infected person’s throat and intestines and it can contaminate food and water in unsanitary conditions.
Poliovirus only infects people and enters the body through the mouth.
—Additional reporting by Ayamba Kandodo, Jordan Simeon Phiri and Martin Gela Jnr, Correspondents