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Two successful rounds of vaccination protect Namibia from polio

© UNICEF/HQ06-0859/Figueira
During the launch of a national polio immunization campaign on the outskirts of Windhoek, Namibia’s capital, First Lady Penehupifo Pohamba (left) administers polio vaccine to UNICEF Namibia Ambassador Agnes Samaria, a world-class runner and former Olympian.

By Pat Lone

WINDHOEK, CAPRIVI AND OMAHEKE REGIONS, Namibia, 7 August 2006 – With all the many thousands of pieces of Namibia’s emergency polio campaign melding together, the final picture emerging from the effort is that of a finely crafted mosaic of success.

The Government of Namibia announced that the two successful rounds of immunization have brought polio cases and deaths down and broken the polio transmission chain.

The first round was held on 21-23 June, and final results indicate that Namibia succeeded in reaching all of its 2 million-plus people and all others present in the country during that period. The same seems true for the second round held on 18-20 July.

© UNICEF/HQ06-0842/Figueira
Boxes of polio vaccine being unloaded at a warehouse in Windhoek, Namibia, bear logos of UNICEF and other health partners. The vaccine is being used during the nationwide immunization campaign that started in June.

Challenges to reach every child

The massive campaigns were launched after a serious polio outbreak was identified in late May. Evidence shows that the virus was imported from neighbouring Angola. Before the outbreak, Namibia had been polio-free for 10 years.

The government planned the comprehensive campaigns as soon as the outbreak was recognized. The World Health Organization, UNICEF and other partners supported the campaign by procuring and delivering all the polio vaccine in record time.

The immunization rounds kicked off on a strong note, but challenges were huge in this vast and sparsely populated country. From the farthest tip of Caprivi in the north to the distant corners of Karas in the south, health workers and volunteers spent thousands of hours covering all of the country’s 13 regions.

In large parts of Caprivi, a river-rich and road-poor region, the vaccines were delivered by two helicopters from Namibia’s Air Force. After leapfrogging over the dense waterways and tributaries of the Zambezi River, the helicopters alighted to a warm reception at the Muszii Combined School.

© UNICEF/HQ06-0860/Figueira
Labourers pause during their workday to be immunized against polio at one of several vaccination sites in Windhoek. A nearby billboard, which describes the national polio immunization campaign, bears the logos of UNICEF and other partners.

The headmaster, Mr. Kayoka, ushered the members of the vaccination team into the school’s neat buildings, while all the pupils turned out to welcome them. Beckoned by the arriving helicopter’s clattering roar, villagers travelled by traditional canoe or on foot to reach the immunization site.

Mosaic of success

In contrast to Caprivi, the region of Omaheke is vast, dry and underpopulated. The success of the immunization campaign there relied heavily on the careful planning of the Government Health Inspector and the farmers’ association, who undertook the task of organizing strategic vaccination sites. The association also ensured that all farmers knew where and when vaccinations would be given.

At the Combumbi Farm in Omaheke, the van sent by the Ministry of Health arrived at the designated immunization point under a tree 20 minutes before the scheduled vaccination time. People from the surrounding area had already been arriving by horse cart and pick-up, and on foot.

A crowd quickly formed into lines, and drop after drop of vaccine was given to men, women and children from nine farms in the area. In less than two hours, more than 660 adults and children had been protected from polio, as another part of the mosaic of success fell into place.

On 18 August, the country will complete the campaign with a final round of immunizations against polio and measles for children under five, as well as vitamin A supplementation.



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