Polio Still Spreading

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK The polio outbreak that was first reported on May 10 has now spread to seven regions including the four most densely populated areas in the country. Forty-seven people have been infected with the disease while ten have died. As of yesterday, new polio cases were reported in three additional regions, namely Ohangwena, Oshana and Omusati. Other regions like Oshi-koto, Khomas, Hardap and Otjozondjupa have reported cases of the disease that can cause paralysis of the lower limbs and the lungs. Ministry of Health and Social Services Permanent Secretary Dr Kalumbi Shangula said yesterday the ministry had picked up some people who had died earlier on but fit the diagnosis of polio. Although the infection rate is escalating, help is in sight with 2.5 million doses of monovalent polio vaccines arriving at the international airport this morning. They will be sufficient to vaccinate the whole Namibian population against the disease. Initially, the consignment, which has been airlifted by UNICEF suppliers, was supposed to be here by Friday. A press statement from the UNICEF said yesterday that “… this very large consignment of the vaccine will enable the government to carry out its emergency action plan to immunize every man, woman and child in the country against polio.” Judith Matjila, UNICEF communications officer (external) said the consignment was expedited by UNICEF Copenhagen so that the vaccines arrived three days earlier than originally expected. He added that the early arrival meant that the government has more time for planning the positioning and distribution of vaccines. The consignment will be handed over to the ministry at the Central Medical Stores this afternoon. To vaccinate the two million inhabitants of Namibia, the country will need personnel of over 1000 and more than 800 vehicles, said Dr Shangula yesterday. Although South Africa has offered to send personnel, Shangula said the ministry did not have a response form SA yet as to what specific help is offered. “We wrote to them telling them what we need but they have not responded as yet,” he said. The mass vaccination campaign, which will be conducted in three rounds with the first round starting on June 21 to 23 and will cost the government N$27 million. The ministry will mobilise cars for the exercise, but, from experience with national immunisation days, Shangula said, charitable organisations and individuals offer their vehicles for use. In the northern regions, for example, private individuals offer their vehicles while the ministry supplies fuel. So far, he said the Namibia Red Cross Society and Development Aid from People to People (DAPP) among many others had offered to assist. “There is a good response from the public,” he added. The first case of the Polio Virus Wild Type 1 was reported in Aranos, in the Hardap Region on May 10, and since then over 60 cases have been reported out of which 10 were fatal, four were removed from the list and some have been discharged. Polio, a short form for poliomyelitis, is a virus that enters the body through the mouth from hands contaminated with the stool of an infected person. No drug developed so far has proven effective against the disease and treatment is entirely symptomatic, said Shangula. The poliovirus lives in the throat and intestinal tract of infected persons. Objects, such as eating utensils, can also spread the virus. Polio patients present the following symptoms: back pain, headache, neck ache, fever, weakness of lower limbs, paralysis, epigastric pain, chest pain, diarrhoea and vomiting.