More than a million children vaccinated against measles, rubella and polio in Papua New Guinea

25 July 2019
A baby sleeping in a bilum
Kate Holt

PORT MORESBY, 25 July 2019 - Papua New Guinea vaccinated more than one million children under five years old against measles, rubella and polio in a nationwide vaccination campaign that was completed in mid-July 2019 in a campaign led by the National Department of Health, with support from the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF.

The integrated measles-rubella and polio campaign follows a series of polio vaccination activities conducted in Papua New Guinea after confirmation of a polio outbreak in June 2018. To date, the country has completed eight rounds of polio campaigns, including three sub-national and five nationwide vaccination campaigns.

“Our low immunization coverage for many years has taught us a big lesson when we got the polio outbreak in 2018”, said Hon Elias Kapavore, Minister of Health and HIV/AIDS. “That lesson has put our children at risk. With our experience in the outbreak response, adequate funds, good planning, commitment and technical support from all stakeholders, we now have a good opportunity to change the situation and deliver better health services to our people”.

The integrated campaign vaccinated 1.28 million children under five years old against polio while 1.17 million children aged 6 months to 5 years got vaccinated against measles-rubella. The coverage data indicates that the number of children vaccinated exceeded the targeted 95% of the population.

The campaign mobilized more than 12000 health workers and volunteers who were trained as vaccinators, surveillance officers and mobilizers in one of the biggest vaccination campaigns in the country.

“The past 12 months of the polio outbreak response have become a testament to Papua New Guinea’s commitment to an enduring legacy of good health to its children in the midst of a very complicated health emergency” said Dr Luo Dapeng, WHO Representative in Papua New Guinea. “We launched the most ambitious, most expensive and most challenging vaccination campaign in the history of the country and together, we must ensure that we sustain the momentum. We have a responsibility to leave a health system that is better than when we found it. WHO will continue to support the Government to achieve this goal.”

The World Health Organization has supported the Government of Papua New Guinea in managing the outbreak response through establishment of the Emergency Operations Centers at the national level and in 22 provinces of the country. It has also put in place a disease surveillance system to identify cases of vaccine-preventable diseases and trained health workers to investigate and respond in a timely manner.

“We congratulate the government and partners for a remarkable success in polio outbreak response, and capitalizing the momentous experience gained, we must now focus on strengthening the routine immunization systems and services to increase and sustain high coverage of immunization to avoid any future outbreak of vaccine preventable disease”, said UNICEF’s Deputy Representative and Officer-In-Charge, Ms. Judith Bruno. “UNICEF is fully committed to support the government’s efforts of improving immunizations status through strong advocacy, effective communication, social mobilization, and the vaccines, cold chain and logistics management to ensure that vaccines reach all children especially the most vulnerable in the hardest to reach areas”, she added.

Funding for the polio and measles-rubella campaign was provided by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Gavi, Rotary International, and the Governments of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Republic of Korea, United Kingdom and the United States of America.

“The Government of Papua New Guinea would like to thank the donors and partners in supporting this massive endeavour to protect children from measles, rubella and polio. Your investment in the health of the children of Papua New Guinea is an investment to their future”, said the Health Minister.

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