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Reaching out to children in the South - Polio immunization in rural Kyrgyzstan

© UNICEF / Moltaeva / 2010
Zura Shermanova, a grandmother of a 1-year old child, Kylyz Abakirova, medical worker, Karakyz Botoyarova, community leader in Osh Province, village Erkin (from left to right)

KYRGYZSTAN, July 2010 - The National Days of Immunization against polio are the first opportunity to restore access for all children to a critical and lifesaving health protection initiative in conflict-affected area of Osh and Djalal-Abad Provinces.

Southern Kyrgyzstan, the region which suffered from civil unrest a month ago, is now facing a potential threat to the health of its children. There has been an outbreak of poliomyelitis, commonly known as polio, across the border.  In the face of this latest peril, communities are coming together to support a national vaccination campaign to protect their children from the incurable disease.

In the multi-ethnic village Toichebek-Chek, situated five kilometres from one of the centres of civil conflict in Djalal-Abad Province, community leaders are helping to spread the word about the coming vaccination campaign.

Marip Tashlanov heads the Village Health Committee and he and his team visit individual households to ensure families know when and where to go for vaccination. Marip is proving to be quite a role model – under his guidance all salt which comes to the market is checked to see it has the required iodine content, there is no alcohol abuse, and children sleep under anti-mosquito nets to protect them from malaria. He has also gained the support of the local Mullah who allows the health committee to meet in a room at the Mosque. Mullah Egesh Makhamadali takes an active part in all health campaigns and once helped to convince a local woman to bring her child for a routine vaccination. She had been deterred after reading leaflets from an extreme religious movement.

Both the Mullah and Maijo know the 498 villagers by sight, and children are particularly precious in this community. “It is a pity that we don’t have many children in the village. Our families used to have 8-10 children, but now they have no more than two.” says Marip. 

He brings his two young grandchildren to the first day of vaccinations. His four year old granddaughter Yasmia is happy to meeting other children at the medical unit which is in the neighbouring village, Kyzylai. Mullah Ergesh Makhamadali’s grandchild is in Russia, but he still goes to the vaccination point on the first day of the vaccination week.  It is an opportunity for him to inform believers that the rules of the coming Orozo (fast) which coincides with the second round of vaccination in August fully support vaccination.  During Friday prayers he also plans to encourage villagers to vaccinate their children to protect them from this incurable disease.

The village leaders also think the event will promote friendship among different ethnic groups for the sake of health and a peaceful future for their children. “In our difficult time the coming mass vaccination of young children against polio is also a chance to restore friendship in multi-ethnic Kyrgyzstan. Children unite us,” says Marip.

© UNICEF / Moltaeva / 2010
Marip Tashlanov, head of the Toichebek-chek village health committee (Djalal-Abad Province) with his granddaughter Yasmina (4) is going to the vaccination point.

About the campaign

After the outbreak in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan has followed Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in organising two rounds of polio vaccination for all children under the age of five. The national immunization days are planned for 19-23 July and 23-27 August 2010.

UNICEF together with the World Health Organisation (WHO), National Society of Red Crescent and USAID are supporting the Kyrgyz Ministry of Health by purchasing the vaccine, training health workers and community voluntees and helping the production and distribution of information materials. Leaflets and posters are delivered to medical units as well as to active non-governmental organizations working with communities. The Ministry of Health also organises mobile units to reach children in “jailoos” - pastures high in the mountains, where they spend the summer vacation with their relatives.  Many children were also sent to jailoos for safe keeping after the tragic events in the south. 

Polio – the facts

Polio is an infectious disease caused by a virus and spread from person to person. The disease mainly affects children under 5 years of age. Polio may be spread when the virus enters the mouth of a person who has come in contact with the stool of an infected person (for example, by changing diapers and not washing hands before touching the mouth) or from fecal contamination of food or drinking water. Most people infected with the poliovirus have no symptoms, but in some people the infection causes paralysis and even death. Until the 1950s, polio crippled thousands of children in industrialized countries. Soon after the introduction of effective vaccines in the late 1950s (IPV) and early 1960s (OPV), polio was brought under control and practically eliminated as a public health problem in industrialized countries.



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