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Polio-eradication partners monitor life-saving immunization drive in Tajikistan

© WHO/2010/Tacconi
From left: UNICEF Representative in Tajikistan Hongwei Gao (holding notebook), Tajikistan's Deputy Minister of Health Dr. Azam Mirzoyev and Immunization Team Leader, WHO Regional Office for Europe, Dr. Rebecca Martin, respond to journalists' questions about polio immunization at an improvised press conference in Tursunzade.

By Alexander Sodiqov

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan, 22 June 2010 – The fourth round of a national immunization campaign against polio has just been completed in Tajikistan, targeting almost 3 million children under the age of 15.

The campaign was launched this spring after Tajikistan witnessed its first reappearance of polio cases since the country was certified as polio-free in 2002.

As part of the campaign, Deputy Minister of Health Dr. Azam Mirzoyev led a multi-agency field visit to Tursunzade district in western Tajikistan on 16 June. The purpose of the visit was to monitor how immunization is conducted in urban and rural health facilities on the ground. UNICEF Representative in Tajikistan Hongwei Gao and representatives of country and regional offices of the US Centers for Disease Control, USAID and the World Health Organization participated in the monitoring exercise.

© UNICEF/2010/Sodiqov
UNICEF Representative in Tajikistan Hongwei Gao checks marks on a child's finger in a rural health facility in Tursunzade to make sure that the child has been immunized against polio.

“We are thankful to our international partners for their support of the polio immunization drive in Tajikistan,” said Dr. Mirzoyev. “Three vaccination rounds have already reduced the number of reported suspected cases in Tajikistan. This round aims at sustaining and accelerating progress achieved during the previous rounds.”

For the first time since the beginning of immunization campaign, local and regional journalists joined the field visit to monitor the latest five-day vaccination drive.

A massive effort

The success of the campaign so far has been the result of a massive effort led by the Ministry of Health, with some 3,200 vaccinators immunizing children nation-wide. UNICEF has supported the effort by procuring and delivering almost 10.3 million doses of oral polio vaccine.

UNICEF has also led a communication and social mobilization effort here to inform the general public about polio immunization and mobilize communities to support the campaign. In the run-up to the recent round of vaccination, more than 2 million leaflets and tens of thousands of posters and banners in Tajik, Uzbek, Russian and Dari were produced and distributed through health centres, schools, kindergartens, markets and mosques across the country.

The social mobilization campaign focused specifically on remote, isolated and under-served populations, including Central Asian Roma communities and Afghan refugee enclaves.

“Tajikistan is confronting a very serious polio outbreak with more polio cases than the rest of the world combined,” said Ms. Hongwei of UNICEF. “However, there has been an impressive and well-coordinated effort to immunize Tajikistan’s children against polio.”

Routine immunization

UNICEF and its partners have expressed readiness to support Tajikistan in planning and implementing two additional polio immunization rounds in September and October. But while this immunization campaign helps to protect children from the debilitating virus, a strong routine immunization system is key to making Tajikistan free of polio again.

“In order to rid the country of polio and help Tajikistan’s children to survive and develop,” said Ms. Hongwei, “we must strengthen routine immunization in the country.”



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