Country Braces for Mass Vaccination

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By Chrispin Inambao RUNDU As the nation puts the final touches to the first round of the planned massive vaccination campaign against poliomyelitis scheduled to start in two days’ time, by last week Thursday, the outbreak had spread to two more regions. This brings the number of regions affected by the contagious disease to eight. The first round of the planned vaccination will take place from 21 to 23 June, while the second round will last from 18 to 20 July and the third round will take place from 22 to 24 August, says the Ministry of Health and Social Services. By Thursday, the outbreak of the disease that causes paralysis of the lower limbs and difficulty in breathing, among others, had spread to the Karas and Omusati regions, pushing the tally to eight regions affected by the disease that has claimed several lives. Dr Richard Kamwi, the Minister of Health and Social Services, who was in Kavango to open two clinics in addition to a mortuary and to intensify the polio awareness campaign, said cases of the disease have so far been confirmed in Khomas, Hardap, Otjozondjupa, Oshana, Ohangwena, Omusati, Oshikoto and Karas regions. By Thursday, no cases of the outbreak were reported in the north-eastern regions. Kamwi who addressed over 120 department heads, business people, politicians and representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) at Rundu, said the South African Red Cross had made a pledge to assist Namibia with a fleet of helicopters that could be used to reach remote areas during the campaign. The issue of the helicopters and how they will be used should be finalized by today. Kamwi said he consulted with Matombazana Tshabalala-Msimang his South African counterpart, who promised to assist Namibia with logistics. “She (Tshabalala-Msimang) called me and showed her support in terms of logistics. What is ready are vaccines. The South African Red Cross will assist us with helicopters”, the Minister said after addressing the meeting at which information pamphlets were also distributed. Among the officials who attended the information session at Rundu was Regional Governor John Thighuru and Elizabeth Muremi, the Regional Health Director. Up to 400 volunteers are expected to assist in the polio awareness campaign and some business people at the town made promises to donate food, money and transport. The Minister said it was high time that people, particularly those without basic ablution facilities, are “taught how to build pit latrines” and he felt students “are the best vehicle” through which information on the disease could reach the target communities. As part of the countrywide vaccination campaign, the Kavango, with a population of 249 228 residents and a migrant population of 24 923 from neighbouring Angola and Botswana, is expected to receive a consignment of 277 266 vials of polio vaccine. An amount of 2,5 percent of the vials to be carried in 1386 boxes for the first round of the planned inoculation will cater for wastage, according to Dr Shannon Kakungulu the Acting Principal Medical Officer at the Rundu State Hospital. Early this month, Cabinet was informed about the outbreak of a paralysing disease in Namibia that was subsequently confirmed as poliomyelitis. As of Thursday, the cumulative number of cases according to the Health Minister stood at 65 with only one out of the three children aged under-five still in hospital. By late last week the number of people who died as a result of this illness was ten. The causative agent was confirmed as Polio Virus Type 1 and it was further confirmed that the virus is an imported one of an Indian strain. A similar strain was isolated last year among patients in Angola. The disease is seasonal, occurring more frequently in summer and early autumn in temperate climates and during the rainy season in tropical climates. Paralytic polio begins with mild symptoms and fever and these symptoms are followed by severe muscle pain and paralysis that usually develop during the first week of illness. Patients may lose the use of one or both arms or legs and some patients may not be able to breathe because their respiratory muscles are paralysed. Its transmission is mainly person-to-person through the faecal – oral route. The virus multiplies in the intestines and is spread through faeces. The Ministry of Health and Social Services is co-ordinating the current outbreak through its National Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Committee. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has provided the Ministry with technical support comprised of six short-term consultants who will be working with its staff for a period of not less than three months and several experts from Sierra Leon, Tanzania and Ghana. UNICEF has provided two communication specialists who are working with the ministry on delivering public mobilization messages and it will also agreed to provide the vaccinations for Round One and Round Two. Namibia had also made a request for pharmaceuticals and clinical supplies to Cuba.