Thursday, May 20, 2010

Uzbekistan hopes to vaccinate 3 million children against polio


TASHKENT, Uzbekistan, 18 May 2010 – Health authorities in Uzbekistan are working to keep polio at bay following a recent outbreak of the disease in neighbouring Tajikistan. Close to 3 million children under the age of five are being targeted in Uzbekistan’s first national polio campaign since the country was declared polio-free in 2002.

Amid a flourish of activity, the first of the National Immunization Days campaign’s two rounds was launched yesterday in Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent. The vaccination drive is being launched jointly by UNICEF, the Uzbek Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization (WHO).

UNICEF Representative in Uzbekistan Jean-Michel Delmotte commended the effort of thousands of health workers, whose job it is to prevent the polio virus from entering Uzbekistan.

“All of us are on the front line of the campaign,” he said, adding that parents and communities must ensure that “every single child is immunized during the campaign rounds.”

The rapid progression of the polio outbreak in Tajikistan, which began last month, caught people here by surprise. With support from UNICEF and WHO, the Government of Uzbekistan quickly decided to undertake a massive immunization campaign. A Polio Working Group was created to examine vaccine procurement, operational issues, training of vaccinators and other essential elements of the drive.

“A month ago, we would have never thought a national polio campaign would be needed in our country,” said Dr. Dilorom Tursunova, Manager of the Expanded Programme of Immunization and a driving force behind the national campaign.

In partnership with Rotary International and the US Agency for International Development, UNICEF is procuring 6.6 million doses of oral polio vaccine for Uzbekistan’s two rounds of vaccination this month and next. UNICEF also helped the Ministry of Health produce thousands of banners, posters and leaflets to raise awareness of the campaign among Uzbek families. With literacy rates close to 100 per cent across the country, such materials are a valuable resource.

Dilfuza Ibragimova, chief doctor at one of Tashkent’s health clinics, said she worked to have her immunization campaign plans ready days before the first round began.

“We have a target group of 2,000 children in the area covered by our clinic, and another 800 children in five kindergartens close by,” she said. In preparation for the campaign, 16 ‘patronage nurses’ from Dr. Ibragimova’s clinic visited the children’s families and set appointment times for their vaccinations.

Across Uzbekistan, thousands of these nurses are joining more than 10,000 trained vaccinators and some 9,000 doctors to support the National Immunization Days campaign. Health workers will undertake outreach activities and visit homes in remote areas to immunize all children simultaneously.

At the Hassanboy village clinic on the outskirts of Tashkent, one of the many venues for the polio campaign launch, 10-month-old Munisa has come for her two drops of the polio vaccine with her sister Hanifa, 3. Their mother, Halima, said she learned about the polio campaign from her local patronage nurses.

“Now I know that my children will be safe from polio,” she said.