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In the wake of conflict, polio immunization campaign protects children in Krygyzstan

© UNICEF/2010/Bayalinova
A vaccinator in Kyrgyzstan gives oral polio vaccine to young children during a national immunization campaign organized to prevent an outbreak of the disease.

By Galina Solodunova

TOICHEBEK-CHEK, Kyrgyzstan, 27 July 2010 – An outbreak of poliomyelitis in Tajikistan earlier this year is potentially threatening the health of children across the border in southern Kyrgyzstan. In the wake of the ethnic violence that tore through the region in June, communities here are coming together in support of a national immunization campaign to protect children from the deadly disease.

In the multi-ethnic village of Toichebek-Chek, situated in Djalal-Abad Province, community leaders are spreading the word about the campaign. Marip Tashlanov, the head of the village health committee, has visited individual households with his team to ensure that families know when and where to take their young children for their vaccinations.

The health committee meets in a room at the village mosque with support from Mullah Egesh Makhamadali, who takes an active part in all health campaigns and encourages local mothers to bring their sons and daughters for routine immunization.

Promoting health and harmony

Both the mullah and Mr. Tashlanov know the nearly 500 villagers by sight, and children are particularly precious in this community.

© UNICEF/2010/Moltaeva
Marip Tashlanov, head of the Toichebek-Chek village health committee in Djalal-Abad Province, Kyrgyzstan, with his granddaughter Yasmina, 4 who was vaccinated against polio during the first round of a national immunization campaign.

“It is a pity that we don’t have many children in the village,” said Mr. Tashlanov. “Our families used to have eight to ten children, but now they have no more than two.”

Mr. Tashlanov brought his two young grandchildren to the first day of vaccinations at the medical unit in the neighbouring village of Kyzylai. Mullah Makhamadali’s grandchild is in Russia, but he still went to the vaccination point on the first day of the campaign.

Both of these village leaders believe the immunization campaign will promote friendship among different ethnic groups for a more peaceful future. “Mass vaccination of young children against polio is also a chance to restore friendship in multi-ethnic Kyrgyzstan. Children unite us,” said Mr. Tashlanov.

Two rounds of immunization

In the aftermath of the polio outbreak this spring in Tajikistan – the first cases of the disease reported there in 13 years – Kyrgyzstan has followed Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in organizing two rounds of polio vaccination for all children under the age of five. The first round of the Kyrgyz campaign was held 19-23 July; the second one is scheduled for 23-27 August.

© UNICEF/2010/Moltaeva
Medical worker Karakyz Botoyarova, a community leader in Erkin village, Osh Province, Kyrgyzstan, makes a home visit encouraging a family to bring their young child to a polio vaccination point.

The polio immunization drive in Kyrgyzstan is the first opportunity to restore access to a critical, life-saving health measure in the conflict-affected provinces of Osh and Djalal-Abad.

UNICEF, the World Health Organisation, the National Society of the Red Crescent and USAID are supporting the Kyrgyz Ministry of Health by purchasing oral polio vaccine, training health workers and community volunteers, and helping to produce and distribute information materials for the campaign. The Ministry of Health also organizes mobile units to reach children in remote mountain areas – including children who are spending the summer vacation with their relatives and many who were sent away for their own safety during and after the tragic clashes in June.



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