War on polio returns

Weekender

Eighteen years ago PNG made history in winning the war against polio and was declared polio-free in the year 2000.
However, a turn of events has seen the eradication scenario change last month where a six year old male child in Lae, Morobe was diagnosed and confirmed positive with the poliovirus. That indicated that polio is back in PNG, and an outbreak is confirmed.
This is a setback for the country, and everyone should be concerned. Every father, mother, brother, sister, grandparents, aunts and uncles should be concerned, says World Health Organisation (WHO) team co-ordinator of Outbreaks and Health Emergencies Dr Zhang Zaixing.
“Polio is a highly infectious disease that can cause serious and permanent paralysis. It spreads rapidly with the movement of people of all walks of life. And children that are under the age of five years are at high risk,” Zhang said.
He said there was no cure for polio, but vaccination was the only defence that can protect people from the disease. Zhang said recently after the detection and outbreak in the three provinces of Morobe, Eastern Highlands and Madang, WHO has launched a series of activities in the fight against polio and enhanced surveillance to actively search for and detect any potential cases in nearby provinces.
“We are also grateful for the generous support from our global counterparts, especially the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), Unicef as well as other partners that flew in international polio experts, vaccines, materials and other supplies. We have raised resources to support the National Government in response to the polio outbreak in the three provinces,” Zhang said.
He said the vaccination has started on Monday and would continue for the next two weeks.
The WHO and its partners will be conducting vaccination of all children under the age of five years in the Eastern Highlands to protect them from polio. The exercise will be carried out in all eight districts of the province where more that 90,000 will be vaccinated.
Similar exercise will also be carried out in Morobe and Madang.
Zhang said over the two-week period and up until October, his organisation’s target was to vaccinate up to 300,000 children in the three provinces. For Eastern Highlands alone the target is to vaccinate 91,051 children under the age of five.
“We are geared up to carry out the vaccinations and we will require all the support from every citizen in the province to bring in their children under the age of five to the clinic points in the districts to be vaccinated (kisim bebi sut), because it is the only way to protect and prevent the children from the polio virus,” Zhang said.
This campaign will be the first of four rounds of vaccinations planned. More vaccinations will be carried out in August, September and October.
The children need to be vaccinated multiple times orally (OPV) which is safe and effective for the children to be fully protected for life.
Zhang thanked the global partners including GPEI which is composed of national governments, WHO, Rotary International, United States Centres of Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
He was also overwhelmed with the support from local partners including the Eastern Highlands Provincial Health Authority, health workers, vaccinators, volunteers and the media.
“We have beaten polio and we can do it again,” Zhang said.

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