Alinafe Frackson, from Traditional Authority Ndindi in Salima, was shocked in February when Malawi confirmed its first wild poliovirus case in three decades.
“I was surprised because Malawi has been free from polio since the early 1990s. Although my vaccinated, I feared for the health of my 18-months-old baby who hasn’t received all the vaccines,” she narrates.
The case discovered in Lilongwe City has triggered an emergency polio immunisation campaign targeting children aged below five in Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania.
For Frackson, the return of polio is wake-up call for every child to be fully immunised.
“I will ensure that my baby retakes all polio shots to be fully protected,” she states.
But she will not have to endure a long walk to the nearest health facility for the child to get vaccinated. Teams of health workers are going door-to-door to ensure no child is skipped in the four-nation imunisation campaign.
“We feel lucky that health workers are coming to our homes, so I don’t have to spend a coin or abandon my farm work,” says Frackson.
She asks parents, including men, to present their children to vaccinators during the house-to-house campaign.
Lidison Chikhwethe, a health surveillance assistant in Ndindi, says the first round was a success in the zone comprising 1 700 households.
“With the door-to-door strategy, there is hope that more children will be vaccinated in the subsequent phases though some parents are withholding theirs due to religious beliefs,” he states.
Cosmas Phiri, district coordinator for Extended Programme on Immunisation (EPI) in Salima, is happy that the health surveilance assistants vaccinated all 91 901 children targeted in the first round.
“We managed to hit the target and we are happy because in this campaign, every child counts. We hope that parents and guardians will get their children vaccinated for four times,” he says.
Dowa district EPI coordinator Precious Mulotha said the vaccination teams were prepared to revaccinate 141 000 children in the second round rolled out on Monday.
Dr Annie Mwale, the deputy incident manager for the Malawi Poliovirus Outbreak Response, applauded the health workers for their commitment to ensuring every child is vaccinated despite heavy rains, tricky terrains and resource constraints.
“During the first round, we received a lot of positive feedback from the community where caregivers, parents and guardians really made the job easier by making their children available for polio vaccination,” she explains.
The Ministry of Health, with support from Unicef and other partners, reported that over 2.96 million children had received the first polio shots by March 21. This supersedes the country’s initial target of 2.9 million.
The preliminary report shows 21 of all the 29 healthcare districts met their targets, with the top-ranked Likoma beating its target by 28 percent.
The second round oends tomorrow.
Poliovirus causes permanent paralysis, but can be prevented through the simple oral vaccine recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Malawi was declared free from the virus in 1992, 28 years before the continent reached the milestone in August 2020.
Despite the three-year-old case in Lilongwe, which is linked to Pakistan, WHO still ranks the Africa region polio-free.