Guinea: Vaccination push as polio re-emerges

News and Press Release
Originally published
View original
DAKAR, 11 December 2009 (IRIN) - Health officials and aid agencies in Guinea will mount the fifth polio vaccination drive this year from 12 to 16 December. The once polio-free country has recorded 37 cases since April.

"The strategy is to reach all under-five children, wherever they are and whatever their immunization status," the World Health Organization and UN Children's Fund said in a joint communiqué on 11 December. "Isolated zones, border villages and islands [off the capital, Conakry] will get particular attention."

More than 11,000 health workers will go door-to-door, immunizing children. The effort is part of a region-wide vaccination push to stem a resurgence of polio. The disease has struck a number of long-uninfected countries, particularly in West Africa, since 2008. According to WHO, polio cases in northern Nigeria were blamed for the reinfection.

Guinea's health system faces a number of constraints, including a lack of state-allocated resources, repeated ruptures in the supply of vaccines and other essential medicines and - since the latest political crisis - a suspension of much donor support, WHO and UNICEF said.

The public immunization system has not been functioning properly, so UN and aid agencies have had to carry out special vaccination campaigns, including for measles and polio, in the past few years. "There is the concern that this could lead to a bit of 'vaccine fatigue' among parents, and this could discourage some," Julien Harneis, head of UNICEF in Guinea, told IRIN.

He said there was a slight concern that the current climate of fear could affect participation in Conakry. "We are a bit concerned about people's reaction to health agents coming knocking on their doors; it is not a huge worry, but it could affect coverage."

As of October 604 polio cases had been recorded in West Africa in 2009, with 837 cases in 2008, compared to 274 in 2007, according to UNICEF.

In November UNICEF launched a drive to boost children's health in Guinea, which aid agencies say has been hit hard by political and socio-economic turmoil in recent years. Polio mainly affects children younger than five years, with one in 200 infections leading to irreversible paralysis.