20 million African children in line for a shot as 4-country polio vaccination programme kicks off

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  • Twenty million children have been targeted in Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania.
  • In Mozambique, more than 30 000 people were trained on vaccine management and social behavioural change.
  • Unicef trained 13 500 health workers and volunteers in Malawi.

The vaccination of more than 20 million children against polio in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Zambia, through government partnerships with the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef), has started.

Unicef had so far procured more than 36 million doses of the polio vaccine for the first two series of immunisation rollouts in the four targeted countries.

On Sunday, the programme was launched in Lilongwe, Malawi and the rest of the countries are to follow suit on Thursday.

In February, Malawi recorded the first case of polio in Africa in the past two years. It was the first case of wild polio in the country since 1992, the year the country was declared polio-free.

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The blitz-like vaccination was important because "polio spreads quickly and can kill or cause permanent paralysis", said Mohamed Fall, Unicef regional director for eastern and southern Africa.

Health Surveillance Assistant Ester Lunga (R) give
Healthcare worker Ester Lunga gives a dose of the polio vaccine to a child in Malawi.

Fall added: "A regional response is vital as polio is extremely contagious and can easily spread as people move across borders."

In a statement, Unicef said the first round of vaccination would target nine million children, but that there would be "three more rounds of vaccination" that will eventually cover 20 million children.

In Malawi, 13 500 health workers and volunteers were trained in 34 districts for the exercise.

"In partnership with the World Health Organisation, Unicef trained 13 500 health workers and volunteers, 34 district health promotion agents and 50 religious leaders," Unicef said in a statement.

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Part of the preparations in Malawi included installing 270 new vaccine refrigerators, repairing vaccine refrigerators, and distributing 800 remote temperature monitoring devices, vaccine carriers, and coolers. 

In Mozambique, more than 30 000 people were trained on vaccine management and social behavioural change, hence the emphasis by Unicef to involve all social players.

Health Surveillance Assistant (HAS) Matilda Mulupw
Healthcare worker Matilda Mulupwa gives a dose of the polio vaccine to a child in Malawi.

"There is no cure for polio, but the vaccine protects children for life. We are working with the World Health Organisation and other partners to ensure that parents, as well as community and religious leaders, know how important it is for every child to receive their vaccine," said Fall.

Tanzania would receive more support for the second and third rounds of vaccination expected to start there in April.

"In Tanzania, Unicef trained 2 147 health workers, 5 128 social mobilisers and 538 municipal critics and facilitated the acquisition of 3 000 vaccine holders and 360 coolers which are due to be delivered in April 2022 for use in the next campaign rounds," the organisation said.

In Zambia, more than 200 trainers were currently training health workers at provincial and district levels, with support from Unicef and partners. District officials received training in polio surveillance in partnership with the World Health Organisation.

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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