DRC steps up efforts to fight polio across the country
Seraphine Mamamugisho, a Goma resident, is met by three vaccinated on her way to market, and she accepted to have her child immunized against the wild polio virus, and supplemented with vitamin A, to reinforce their immunity. “I call on parents who still don’t accept vaccination in general, to make efforts and have their kids vaccinated,” Mamamugisho says. “Vaccination can protect children from paralysis, eye-illnesses or other diseases,” she adds.
Mamamugisho has her child vaccinated some hours after the official launch of second round of the mass polio immunization campaign in Goma by Julien Paluku, Governor of North Kivu Province, eastern DRC. Numerous women brought their children to the launch, to give them the two drops that can protect them from the wild polio virus, and the vitamin A supplements, to reinforce their immunity.
After delivering the opening speech, Governor Paluku vaccinated a few kids brought by their parents at the official launch, before visiting neighbouring houses to encourage the community to welcome vaccinators. From 26 to 28 May, DRC aims to vaccinate all the children aged between zero and 59 months against the wild polio virus and supplement them with vitamin A in all the 11 provinces. In DRC’s capital Kinshasa, all the population is to be vaccinated from 26 to 30 May in order to break the propagation of the wild polio virus among adults. According to WHO, 50 polio cases have been registered since the beginning of the year, with 30 in DRC’s capital Kinshasa, nearly two third of which are adult cases. The situation is worrisome and DRC must make more efforts to fight polio. “Between the first round in April and the second in May, four new cases of wild polio virus have been recorded. It is urgent to act as the epidemic now affects adults,” declares Rosine Sama, head of North Kivu WHO sub-office.
Combining the administration of vitamin A supplements with immunization is an important part of the effort to fight polio. Since 1987, WHO has advocated the routine administration of vitamin A with measles vaccine in countries where vitamin A deficiency is a problem, and great success and many millions of children have been reached by including vitamin A with mass immunization campaigns to eradicate polio.
To reach the greatest number of people, vaccinators walk down the streets, discuss with parents to vaccinate children. They also go from house to house and often come up against prejudices and resistance. So, they negotiate and make parents understand that it is their responsibility but the child’s right to be protected against diseases. To leave no child out, UNICEF and its partners learn lessons from the first round, to better battle resistance. “During the first round Oicha health area came up against resistance with a sect,” recalls Rose Nkiko, UNICEF North Kivu Child Survival officer. “This time, we’ve already deployed a UNICEF team, a communication for development officer and a member of the Health promotion division actively listen to parents and make them accept vaccination,” she adds.
During the first round of polio immunization campaign, DRC immunized 16 million children and 7 million adults. In North Kiv, 1.3 million children were vaccinated, which represents 110% of the target. In remote areas across the province, distance and insecurity remain the main challenges to all efforts made to reach out for all populations. “We meet difficulties in the mountainous parts of the province where people walk for days to reach children,” underlines Stephane Bateyi, Coordinator of North Kivu vaccination division. So efforts are stepped in those areas to reach the most vulnerable, in the most remote places. DRC officials also consider areas controlled by armed groups. “Even rebels want their children to be vaccinated,” Governor Paluku says. “When it comes to saving lives, we don’t consider faces, but only the lives to save,” he adds.
Prior to the vaccination campaign, UNICEF ensured that educators go door-to-door to inform the community, and purchased the necessary vaccine doses, and the basics such as syringes or needles, thanks to vital 17 million USD funding from Foundation Bill & Melinda Gates, CDC-Atlanta, USAID, WHO, UNICEF, Rotary International, and the Governments of DRC, Germany and Japan for the two rounds of mass polio immunization campaign. “We thank all funders, specially Japan who, despite the situation they face, continue to give their support to UNICEF in DRC,” Nkiko says, referring to the earthquake, tsunami and natural that affected Japan in March. By Ndiaga seck