Over 415,500 children vaccinated in first round of polio vaccination

Sarjo Camara Singateh

Mr. Saharu Kanteh, Communication Officer, expanded programme on immunization (Epi)said out of the 416,740 children targeted for the first round of immunization, 415,504 were vaccinated which constituted 99.7% of the targeted population.

Mr. Saharu Kanteh made this remark at a press briefing held at the Central Medical Stores. The press conference centred on their preparedness for the second round of polio vaccination which is slated for 31st October to 3rd November 2014. He said suffice it to say that the relatively high level of awareness on National Immunization Days (NIDs) has direct bearing on the overall performance of the campaign.

Kanteh said The Gambia would be joining several other countries to conduct a second round of synchronized National Immunization Days starting from 31st of October to 3rd November 2014. Similar to round one, the second round aims to cover 416,740 children aged 0-5 years with two drops (dose) of oral polio vaccine (OPV). He said vaccination teams will move from house to house to vaccinate eligible children and NIDs are meant to supplement the routine immunization activities; that children must be vaccinated even if they had completed their routine vaccination schedule.

Mr. Kanteh quoted the independent monitor’s report that 71% of the Gambian populace heard about the campaign before the start date. “This could be as a result of the social mobilization activities we did with the Governors, Technical Advisory Committees (TACs), Chiefs, Alkalos, Women councilors and of course the print and electronic media.” He said the report further states that 28% of the population heard about the NIDs from radio whilst the TV was able to inform 10% of the population.

Mr. Kanteh said this was made possible with the active involvement and commitment of the Government of the Gambia, the United Nations Agencies, NGOs and other development partners as well as the communities. “In a move to consolidate these gains and to further reduce the threat of importation of the wild polio virus from other countries where it is still in circulation, the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) Unit of MoH&SW will continue to conduct polio NIDs in order to kick Polio out of the Gambia and the globe so that the millions of Dalasis the Government and partners spend on polio vaccination can be spent on something else for national development,” said Kanteh.

He said as long as a single child remains infected, children in all countries are at risk of contracting polio. Failure to eradicate polio from these last remaining strongholds could result in as many as 200, 000 new cases every year, within 10 years, all over the world, he informed. He said, “Our challenge for the second round is how to increase the awareness level of the populace from 71% to 100% so that the coverage can be maintained or further improved from 99.7% to 100%.”

For his part, Mr. Mass Joof, the Programme Officer of Health Communication Unit under the auspices of the health promotion and education directorate under the Ministry of Health and Social welfare noted that the second round of polio vaccination will be only vaccine without any supplementary like vitamin A because that is given every six months. Mr. Joof said due to rains they were unable to reach 100% coverage but this time around hopes are high that they would reach the target.

The briefing was chaired by the deputy director of health promotion and education directorate, Mr. Momodou Saho. The president of the health journalists association Ms. Fatou Touray assured the ministry of her association’s unflinching support for the coverage and dissemination of information on health news.