Polio immunization drive starts 16 July in PNG

12 July 2018
A child weighed in the hospital.
UNICEF PNG/2018/Bell
A child weighed in the hospital.

PORT MORESBY, 12 July 2018  A polio immunization campaign kicks off on 16 July in Morobe, Madang and Eastern Highlands provinces of Papua New Guinea. About 2900 health workers, vaccinators and volunteers have been mobilized to vaccinate almost 300,000 children under 5 years of age. 

On 21 June it was confirmed that poliovirus is circulating once more in the country after 18 years polio-free. One case of polio paralysis has been reported to date, in a six-year-old boy from Lae, Morobe Province, and stool samples from two healthy children have also tested positive for the virus. The campaign from 16-29 July 2018 is the first in a series of vital immunization campaigns planned every month for the next four months.

"Polio is back in Papua New Guinea and all un-immunized children are at risk," said Pascoe Kase, Secretary of the National Department of Health (NDOH). “It is critical that every child under five years of age in Morobe, Madang and Eastern Highlands receives the polio vaccine during this and other immunization campaigns, until the country is polio-free again."

As polio is a highly infectious disease which transmits rapidly, there is a potential for the outbreak to spread to other children across the country, or even into neighbouring countries, unless swift action is taken. With no cure for polio, organizers of the immunization drive are calling for the full support of all sectors of society to ensure every child is protected. Parents living in the three provinces are encouraged to bring their children to their health centre or vaccination posts to receive the vaccine, free of charge, during the campaign.

"Everyone has a role to play in stopping this terrible disease," commented Dr Luo Dapeng, WHO Representative in Papua New Guinea. "We call on parents to bring your children under five years of age for vaccination, irrespective of previous immunization status. Together, we can help ensure that this outbreak is rapidly stopped and that no further children are paralysed by polio.”

The Officer In Charge for UNICEF Representative, Ms. Judith Bruno, stressed, “As long as the polio virus persists anywhere, all un-immunized children remain at risk, and since polio carries enormous social costs, we must make it a key priority to stop its transmission so that children, families and communities are protected against this terrible and crippling disease.”

The immunization campaign is organized by the National Department of Health and the Provincial Health Authorities, with support from the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, Rotary International and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI).

The vaccination campaign is the first of the four rounds of vaccinations planned. Additional campaigns will be held every month from July-October 2018, with the following schedules:

First Round: 16-29 July 2018 (Morobe, Madang and Eastern Highlands)

Second Round: 13-26 August 2018 (Morobe, Madang and Eastern Highlands)

Third Round:            10-23 September 2018 (Morobe, Madang, Eastern Highlands and NCD)

Fourth Round:          8-21 October 2018 (Morobe, Madang, Eastern Highlands and NCD)

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is spearheaded by national governments, WHO, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and UNICEF.  Worldwide efforts to eradicate the disease have reduced the annual incidence of polio from 350,000 cases worldwide in 125 endemic countries in 1988, to fewer than 20 cases in 2018, reported from two countries (Pakistan and Afghanistan). 

Three countries remain polio endemic (Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria). However, poliovirus continues to cause outbreaks in previously polio-free countries, particularly where there are pockets of un-immunized children. 

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