Polio vaccination programme in full swing in Midlands

Patrick Chitumba-Midlands Bureau Chief

The major programme in Zimbabwe to vaccinate all children under 10 against a polio variant thought to be extinct is now in full swing in the Midlands.

Since last week officials of the Ministry of Health and Child Care have been conducting vaccinations in primary schools and early childhood learning centres across the province.

The Ministry in collaboration with UNICEF, the World Health Organisation, and several other partners, started the nationwide polio vaccination campaign using the novel OPV type two (nOPV2) vaccine. This follows the confirmation of circulating poliovirus type 2 (cVDPV2) in Zimbabwe.

This countrywide campaign, which targets all children under 10 years old, is aimed at interrupting virus transmission and preventing further rapid outbreaks.

The campaign is using high-quality oral polio vaccines and be implemented in two phases, reaching an estimated four million children nationwide during each round so that all under-10s get two doses. 

To ensure wide coverage, it will combine the usual vaccination at health facilities with a door-to-door approach.

Through routine environmental surveillance, 17 examples of circulating poliovirus type 2 (cVDPV2) were detected in sewage samples collected in Harare.

Additionally, through intensified disease surveillance, the Ministry of Health and Child Care identified three human cases of polio in Mashonaland West and Harare Provinces. 

Without urgent action, there is a high risk of the spread of polio. The ministry urged communities and religious leaders to encourage their children to embrace vaccination within their communities.

Midlands provincial medical director Dr Mary Muchekeza said that the country had last experienced polio cases in 1987. She said there has been no circulating poliovirus identified from that time.

“As a province, we are following a polio vaccination and sensitisation programme spearheaded by the Ministry of Health and Child Care across the province. I urge the members of the community to embrace this by taking their children for vaccination,” she said. 

Dr Muchekeza said the new form of polio can be spread within communities, adding that it is a rare infection that has been increasing as a result of low immunisation rates.

“The last polio cases were identified in 1987 until recently seven cases were identified in the country through environmental screening surveillance. We aim to vaccinate children under 10 years of age with two doses one in February and the other in March,” she said.

Dr Muchekeza said the campaigns are being carried out to make sure that every child is vaccinated as the virus is more severe to children who have not received polio vaccination.

“We will use the implementation strategies such as door-to-door, fixed points, health facilities, schools as well as community centres and mobile facilities so that we reach all the children,” she said.

The WHO introduced a novel oral polio vaccine which is modified and will cover three varieties of polio.

Health and Child Care Minister Dr Douglas Mombeshora said the detection of cVDPV2 was a serious concern but the country was prepared to respond swiftly and effectively.

 “This nationwide vaccination campaign demonstrates our unwavering commitment to protecting the health of every child in Zimbabwe,” said Dr Mombeshora. 

This is the first time Zimbabwe is using the novel OPV2 vaccine, a critical new and safe tool in the fight against cVDPV2 launched by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in 2021. 

The nOPV2 has been successfully used in several African countries, including Ethiopia, Benin, Congo Republic, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

In support of the polio vaccination campaign, large-scale communication activities are rolled out to ensure parents are fully informed and motivated to have their children vaccinated.

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