PORT MORESBY, 25/02/2019 - The Minister of Health and HIV/AIDS, Sir Dr Puka Temu today announced 2019 as the Year of Immunisation in Papua New Guinea amidst a polio outbreak in the country. The outbreak, attributed to low immunisation coverage in the country, has prompted all stakeholders to prioritise and join efforts to interrupt transmission of the disease and to increase routine immunisation coverage.
Papua New Guinea has persistently low routine immunisation with the 3rd dose of DPT coverage plateauing around 60 per cent for over a decade and only 50 per cent of all children completed all three doses of DPT vaccination by their first birthday. Since the announcement of the polio outbreak in June 2018, there have been 26 confirmed polio cases affecting children in nine provinces. In addition to polio, cases of measles and pertussis have been reported in the country. By declaring 2019 as the year of immunization, the Minister of Health appeals to reinvigorate all possible efforts, investment and leadership from the national government, provincial and district level governments, and key stakeholders to accelerate the coverage of routine immunization in the country.
“We cannot have another outbreak. It is our collective responsibility to ensure every child is immunised against vaccine-preventable diseases. Parents must bring their children to vaccination centers to get both polio and routine immunization,” said Sir Dr Temu.
While declaring 2019 as the year of immunisation, the Health Minister also launched round three of the polio national immunisation days. The campaign is targeting over 3.34 million children aged 0-15 years.
Polio which is a highly infectious disease is known to permanently paralyse or even cause death in children. The Government, with support from UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other key partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) have been working to stop the spread of the disease through national immunisation days targeting children.
“It is unacceptable for children to die from vaccine- preventable diseases such as measles or become paralysed from polio. If we all actively participate in community sensitization and mobilization to ensure that all children complete their routine immunization and that all eligible children are vaccinated against polio during every campaign, we will stop deaths and outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases” said UNICEF’s representative in Papua New Guinea, Mr David McLoughlin.
Before the polio outbreak in 2018, Papua New Guinea had been polio free for 18 years, having eradicated polio from the country in the year 2000. As per Joint WHO/UNICEF Reporting Form (JRF) 2015-2017, the routine immunization rates for DPT-3 have dropped from 62 percent in 2015 to 50 per cent in 2017, children in Papua New Guinea face an even higher risk of contracting vaccine-preventable diseases. This however can be averted if parents and caregivers of children and the community at large demand for vaccination and ensure that their children are vaccinated against vaccine -preventable diseases according to the national vaccination schedule.
Economically the cost of responding to a disease outbreak is higher than the cost of preventing the disease. For example, the cost of the current polio outbreak response programme is three to five times higher than the cost of strengthening and maintenance of an effective routine immunisation programme for all children under the age of five. Not only is the polio outbreak response the most expensive disease response globally but it is also an indicator of other emerging threats to public health in Papua New Guinea.
“Since the declaration of the outbreak, WHO has launched one of the biggest polio response operations in the region”, said Dr Luo Dapeng, WHO Representative in Papua New Guinea. “WHO has flown in 109 polio experts from all over the world to support the 22 provinces. We have established 23 emergency operations centers and have trained almost 10,000 health workers in conducting surveillance, identifying polio cases and managing vaccination campaigns. The task remains massive, and WHO affirms our commitment to finish this outbreak, and at the same time contribute to strengthening the health system in the country.”
WHO and UNICEF are supporting the National department of Health to vaccinate all children by supplying vaccines for both polio campaign and routine immunization, maintaining and improving cold chain for proper storage of vaccines; deploying international experts at provincial health authorities to support micro-planning, training, and implementation monitoring; strengthening Acute Flaccid Paralysis (AFP) surveillance; and supporting advocacy and social mobilization activities at all levels by working with communities, religious leaders, political leaders and other partners.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children in Papua New Guinea, visit https://www.unicef.org/png/