UNICEF Deputy Regional Director helps launch a second round of polio vaccines in Uzbekistan
By Savita Varde-Naqvi
TASHKENT, Uzbekistan, 9 June 2010 – Following a major polio outbreak in Tajikistan –Europe’s first since the region was declared ‘polio free’ in 2002 – a committed global partnership is working hard to keep neighbouring Uzbekistan free of the disease.
The second round of a massive immunization campaign in Uzbekistan is targeting nearly three million children under the age of five with oral polio vaccines. Launched jointly by UNICEF, the Uzbek Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization (WHO), the second round is running from 7 to 13 June. It will further protect Uzbekistan against the debilitating virus raging just across its borders.
Battling the virus
Nearly two months after a polio outbreak was first confirmed in neighbouring Tajikistan, Uzbekistan is still free of the disease. Coordinated rounds of immunization and action at the country’s borders are preventing the spread of the disease, experts say.
Shahrukhkhan, 2, was the first child to receive the polio vaccine drops during this round of the campaign. A string of children followed, each receiving two drops and then playing or sitting in a parent’s lap as medical staff watched for signs of an adverse reaction to the vaccine.
“Most important for the success of the campaign is to take the families along,” said UNICEF Deputy Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CEE/CIS), Kirsi Madi, who attended the launch of the campaign’s second round. “I am happy to note that this is being done through Village Committee members, religious leaders and community advisors during this round,” she added.
Accuracy of coverage
On her first visit to Uzbekistan as Deputy Regional Director of CEE/CIS, Ms. Madi met with mothers and children who had just been immunized. Like Shahrukhkhan, they were being observed by clinic nurses before returning home.
Dilnora, who turned one year old on immunization day, held out her left hand playfully. Its little finger was covered in ink, indicating that she had been reached with a polio vaccine. “I feel the whole country is celebrating her birthday with this campaign,” said her mother, Dilafruz Tilobova. “She is also proud of her first ‘nail polish,’” she laughed.
Finger-marking, a new feature introduced in the second round of the campaign, allows health workers to cross-check the number of children immunized against tally sheets to ensure accuracy of coverage.
Results from the campaign’s first round, held in May, show good over-all coverage. Nonetheless, said Uzbek Minister of Health Dr. Adkham Ikramov, more remains to be done. “The second round aims to maintain the high coverage while focusing on difficult-to-access children, such as mobile populations or those living in remote areas,” he said.
A massive effort
As of 1 June, more than 150 cases of polio were confirmed in Tajikistan, where a major vaccination drive is also underway. In Uzbekistan, UNICEF and its partners have procured 6.6 million doses of the oral polio vaccine and stand ready to mobilize even more, should another round be necessary. The massive effort is being led by the Uzbek Ministry of Health, with some 10,000 vaccinators, 9,000 doctors and 5,000 patronage nurses driving the effort on the ground.
Community involvement has been central to the campaign’s success so far, said Dr. Akida Sadikova Nazarullaevna, Chief Doctor in a clinic in Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s capital.
“We used our classes for young mothers to discuss the importance of getting all children under the age of five, especially newborns, immunized,” said Dr. Sadikova. “The patronage nurses took leaflets produced by UNICEF to families during house visits and left them with mothers to read and remember,” she added.
Ms. Madi was joined at the launch of the campaign’s second round by Dr. Ikramov and WHO Regional Director for Europe Zsuzsanna Jakab. Following the visit to Uzbekistan, Ms. Madi will attend the ‘Millennium Development Goals + 10’ Regional Conference for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, where she will address the outbreak and other health challenges facing the region.