First Polio Campaign in Many Years to Protect Three Million Children of Uzbekistan
by Savita Varde-Naqvi
TASHKENT, 17 May 2010 - Close to 2.9 million children under the age of five are expected to be immunised against polio during a nationwide campaign that was launched in Uzbekistan on 17 May 2010 after a gap of many year. Uzbekistan was declared polio free in 2002, as indeed the rest of Central Asia.
The National Immunisation Days (NIDs) were flagged off jointly by the Ministry of Health, UNICEF and WHO at Clinic No. 46 in Shaykhontohur district of Tashkent city and at the health facility of Hasanboy village in the rural outskirts of Tashkent . The team of nurses, vaccinators, doctors and Ministry officials looked purposeful and had urgency in their step as they engaged with parents who had brought their children for immunisation.
UNICEF Representative in Uzbekistan Mr Jean-Michel Delmotte commended the effort of thousands of health workers who have made it their business not to let the polio virus enter Uzbekistan. “All of us are on the frontline of the campaign and will succeed in protecting our children from polio if the ‘makhalla’ (community) chiefs, the religious leaders, parents, family members and neighbours make sure that every single child is immunised during the campaign rounds,” said Mr Delmotte.
Not many doctors have seen polio
“A month ago, we would have never thought a national polio campaign would be needed in our country,” said Dr Dilorom Tursunova, Manager of the Expanded Programme of Immunisation and the driving force behind the National Immunisation Days (NIDs) to be held from 17 – 23 May and 7 – 13 June 2010. “Because we have not had a polio case since 1994, many of our doctors have never seen polio and have trouble seeing the risk,” she added.
Last month everyone was caught by surprise when neighbouring Tajilistan reported a polio outbreak and the cases began to mount rapidly. In consultation with WHO and UNICEF the Government decided to have two national campaign rounds to protect children in Uzbekistan. A Polio Working Group was formed overnight by the Ministry of Health (MoH) with the participation of UNICEF and WHO to look into Vaccine procurement, operational issues, training of vaccinators, micro-planning and communication strategies to get families on board with the campaign. All this to be completed in three weeks flat!
A giant effort
In partnership with Rotary International, CDC, USAID and WHO, UNICEF delivered the required 6.6 million vaccine doses for two rounds of NIDs in May and June, 1500 banners, 20,000 posters and 1.2 million leaflets for families. Literacy rate being close to 100% in Uzbekistan, health promotion materials are a valuable resource to decision makers at the household level. .
Dilfuza Ibragimova, Chief Doctor of Clinic No. 46 in Shaykhontohur district of Tashkent city had her micro-plans ready much before the NIDs. “We have a target group of 2000 children in the area covered by our clinic and another one with 800 children in five kindergartens close by,” she says with mathematical precision. Her bevy of 16 ‘patronage nurses’ has already visited homes and explained the need for their children to be immunised as part of the national campaign. Dr Ibragimova then explains the electronic and manual registration of children and takes us to the vaccination room where a trained vaccinator is putting two drops of the polio vaccine delicately into the little upturned mouth of one-month-old Madina Bano.
For Uzbekistan, a country of 28 million people, it is a giant effort to mobilise 10,000 trained vaccinators, 9000 doctors and many thousands of patronage Nurses for the NIDs. Seven thousand clinics, rural health centres and special vaccination points across the country have been activated. There is a plan to immunise children in remote areas through outreach and home visits.
A child reporter on the polio campaign
At the Hassanboy village clinic, one of the many venues of a nationwide polio campaign launch, ten-month-old Munisa has come to receive the vaccine drops with her sister Hanifa who will be four years old in June. Their mother Halima has been counselled by the patronage nurse of her ‘makhalla’. “Though my children were immunised before, now I know they will be safe from polio if they are immunised again during the campaign rounds with other children,” she says with an assured smile.
Among the media who have come to cover the launch are two curious school children Alesya Ikramova, 15 and Rauf Baybekov, 12 who contribute to a children’s weekly newspaper, ‘Class.’ With their cameraman and Chief Editor in toe, the duo is busy interviewing parents, meeting health workers and making notes. “We are going to tell all our readers to get involved in the campaign and take their little brothers and sisters for polio immunisation. We think prevention is very important, especially when the vaccine is free,” says Rauf with a simple logic that can appeal to any parent at once.