Funds to Strengthen Surveillance System

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By Petronella Sibeene WINDHOEK True to the adage that a friend in need is a friend indeed, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) last Friday received over N$2.5 million from Japan for polio surveillance in Namibia. The donation is a response to UNICEF’s project proposal sent in June 2006 to the Japanese government to assist Namibia financially following an outbreak in May which resulted in a nationwide vaccination exercise. The US$344ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 716 (approximately N$2ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 633ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 630) will be channelled towards a continuous surveillance of polio in all districts, especially those bordering Angola, to ensure that any possible importation is promptly detected and contained. The Ministry of Health and Social Services, through its Social Mobilization team, is expected to develop capacity of district social mobilization focal persons in order for them to implement a community-based surveillance system. According to the Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Simwanza Simenda, the assistance comes at an opportune time as Namibia embarks on planning for next year. “The funds will be utilized to strengthen a community-based surveillance system for 2007. The focus will be in regions and districts with communities which are living close to international borders where thousands of people cross every week from countries where polio could still be in circulation,” he added. He appealed to all communities to give their support in strengthening the programme. The Japanese representative, Shinichi Ito, said Japan and Namibia enjoy strong bilateral relations especially in the areas of education, social services and tourism. “The grant, which was handed over to UNICEF, marks the cornerstone of further contribution from Japan. I hope the grant will be of great help to the containment of the polio outbreak in Namibia and will thus further strengthen our bilateral relations,” Ito stated. Towards the end of May this year, the first case of wild poliovirus was recorded in the country. Confirmed cases rose to 20 by July 26. These were part of the 300 cases of acute flaccid paralysis recorded. The outbreak claimed at least 32 lives. More than 200 contributors helped the ministry run its three-phased polio campaigns. The support came in the form of financial resources, transport and drivers, volunteers (human resources) and logistics. Minister of Health and Social Services, Dr Richard Kamwi, when handing over tokens of appreciation certificates and plaques to various supporters, described the outbreak as something that took the entire ministry by surprise. Due to the seriousness of the outbreak and the infectious nature of the disease, the ministry had to respond promptly by vaccinating the population of approximately two million. Some N$20 million was spent during the three rounds of polio vaccinations, while 1ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 244 vehicles were utilized. The number of personnel including volunteers was 7ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000 for round one, 7ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 725 for round two and 5ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 915 for round three. In response to the outbreak, Cabinet also committed a budget of N$25 million from the national contingency fund to cover for vaccines, transport, training and clinical supplies. The outcome of the vaccination campaign’s three rounds was a resounding success, with 90 to 100% coverage. World Health Organization (WHO) representative, Custodia Mandlhate, invited all Namibians to support relevant stakeholders’ commitment to improve the surveillance activities, increase routine immunization coverage, improve dialogue with neighbouring countries, commitment to be prepared to respond to any importation, and commitment to keep the promise and kick polio out of Namibia.