Not Any Polio Vaccine Will Do

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK The Ministry of Health and Social Services has ordered public and private health institutions vaccinating people against polio with trivalent oral polio vaccine (t OPV) to stop the practice immediately because this undermines its efforts to effectively control the outbreak. All inhabitants of Namibia will be vaccinated against the disease as from June 21 in a government campaign that will cost an estimated N$27 million. In the wake of an outbreak of Polio Virus Wild Type 1, which has claimed seven lives and affected 39 others, some health institutions have started vaccinating people while schools are inviting parents to take their children to vaccination points. Since Tuesday, five new cases have been reported in Khomas (4) and Oshikoto (1). The other affected regions are Hardap and Otjozondjupa. Permanent Secretary, Dr Kalumbi Shangula told the press yesterday that the vaccine that will be used in the mass vaccination campaign is not available in Namibia presently. The vaccine, which is being airlifted into Namibia by United Nations Children’s Fund suppliers, will only arrive next week on June 16. The vaccine that is being used now (t OPV), said the PS, is reserved for National Immunisation Days among children under the age of five, and, in addition, the administration of the vaccine reduces the likelihood of the recipient having the appropriate immunological response to the monovalent oral polio vaccine (m OPV) which will be administered as of June 21. Through its investigations, the ministry has also found that although Namibia is really dealing with a Polio Virus Type 1, the strain that is circulating is an Indian type, which was isolated in Angola last year. This means that the virus in not indigenous but an imported one. Namibia has been polio-free over the past 10 years and the outbreak, according to the PS, is a setback because the country was close to achieving the polio-free status. “It is not clear whether it was introduced into Namibia from India or from Angola. The investigations are continuing,” said Shangula. The first case of polio was reported on May 10 from Aranos. The mass vaccinations will be conducted in three rounds with Round 1 to be conducted from June 21-23 and Round 2 from July 18-20. The last round, to be conducted from August 20-24 is for children under the age of five and, apart from polio, it will also include measles vaccination as well as Vitamin A supplementation. Another disturbing response that Dr Shangula said should stop immediately is wearing of masks and gloves by hospital staff as the polio virus is transmitted through oral-faecal routes and is not airborne. Meanwhile, Dr Shangula said that a certain private hospital has decided not to admit patients who are suspected of polio. He warned that “such discriminatory action is unwarranted and only proves the ignorance of the decision makers about the mode of the transmission of polio.” He said the patients did not pose any extra danger, as the normal hospitalisation control would suffice to prevent the spread of the disease. The ministry’s Directorate of Primary Health Care (PHC) is also in the process of compiling leaflets and pamphlets, which will be distributed to the public as from next week, according to Maggie Nghatanga, Director of the PHC. She said that by Wednesday, June14, the public will be told what they should do. Namibia has been polio-free for the past 10 years and in the wake of the disease, whose treatment is symptomatic, Shangula said people should observe the following appropriate procedures to prevent the outbreak: -Wash hands every time after using the toilet and before eating -Wash or cook well al unpackaged foods such as fruit and vegetables -Boil the water before drinking if the source is suspect.