Immunization campaign aims to keep Abkhazia region polio-freeUNICEF and European Union support vaccinations
by Maya Kurtsikidze
ABKHAZIA, Georgia, 3 December 2010 - UNICEF, the Abkhaz authorities and the European Union have left no stone unturned in their efforts to keep the region polio-free.
In the first round of the polio immunization campaign that began here in November, 98 percent of all children up to 17 years of age were vaccinated. Hundreds of vaccination points were set up in medical facilities, schools and kindergartens across Abkhazia, and more than 50 mobile units were deployed to reach every child in the most remote rural areas.
The second round of immunization is scheduled for 6-12 December.
“With recent cases of polio reported in Russia and other countries of the region that were previously declared as polio-free, the risk of the polio virus arriving in Abkhazia is quite high,” said UNICEF Representative in Georgia Roeland Monasch. “Immunizing children with oral polio vaccine in both rounds is the best way to protect their health and prevent the polio outbreak.”
Reaching every child
The polio cases in the Russian Federation were the first confirmed there in five decades, and hundreds of children have contracted the disease in neighbouring Tajikistan. Amidst fears of a possible outbreak in Abkhazia, worried parents queued at schools and hospitals to get their children vaccinated
“I saw banners all around the city, as well as heard about the campaign from TV announcements and SMS that we have received just on the eve of the campaign,” said one young mother waiting to enter the immunization room with her two-month-old son.
“I brought my child because I think it is important to protect him from this disease. This is my child and I care about his health,” she added.
Means of prevention
“We are making progress, but much still needs to be done,” said Mr. Monasch of UNICEF. “Protecting against polio is a life-saving intervention and active participation of various members of the society – including traditional and religious leaders, health and education authorities, and civil society, as well as the population at large – is important in making Abkhazia polio-free.”
Polio is a highly infectious disease that has no cure. Children, especially those under five, are particularly susceptible; if not prevented, polio infection may result in disability or, in some severe cases, even death.
The only sure way to prevent polio is to immunize every child with the safe and effective oral polio vaccine, which is given in the form of two drops to each child, including newborns. The vaccine has already protected billions of children from polio around the world.