May National polio campaign covers 5.8 children

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Baghdad, 22 May 2014 – The Iraqi Ministry of Health (MoH), with the support of World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, conducted the third round of National Immunization Days of 2014 from 13 to 17 May. These immunization activities are in response to an outbreak of polio in the Middle East which has resulted so far in two cases of polio in Iraq. The supplementary national vaccination campaign reached 5.8 million children between 0 to 5 years of age across Iraq with two drops of the oral polio vaccine (OPV), including displaced Iraqis and refugees from neighboring countries.

Dr. Jaffar Hussain, WHO Representative for Iraq said “Reaching every child every time is the only way to stop transmission of the polio virus. WHO has been working closely with MoH in strengthening the quality of surveillance and campaigns to ensure that no child in Iraq falls prey to the crippling disease again”.

The second polio case in Iraq was detected in a neighborhood near Baghdad when a three year old girl showed signs of paralysis. This second case, which is near where the first case was detected earlier in 2014, confirms that the poliovirus has been able to survive even after repeated rounds of vaccination in the country. To stop the threat of polio it essential that every child under five years of age receives polio drops every time the polio campaign takes place in Iraq.

“In this modern age, with vaccines such as OPV readily available, no child anywhere should ever suffer from polio. UNICEF will support the MoH and partners to ensure Iraq is again polio free” said Dr. Marzio Babille, UNICEF Representative for Iraq.

Iraq’s MoH with support from WHO and UNICEF have committed to an intensive response composed of multiple national and supplementary immunization campaigns to stop the polio outbreak and ensure all the children of Iraq remain polio free. To assist in reaching these goals, UNICEF has procured and supplied approximately 16.5 million doses of OPV since the initial regional response started last October when polio was detected in Syria. Additionally, UNICEF is actively supporting the MoH in communication activities focused on social mobilization and mass media promotion of polio campaigns and routine immunization.

Earlier this month, Ministry of Health, UNICEF and USAID launched a media campaign that focused on the importance of polio vaccination in Iraq—immunization is the only way to protect against polio, and the more times a child receives polio drops the more protected they are from this terrible disease. For the May campaign, 11 TV channels broadcasted promotional slots while Zain mobile, in partnership with UNICEF sent SMS messages to all its subscribers advocating for polio vaccination. The WHO through Iraqi Red Crescent Society conducted independent monitoring to evaluate the quality of the May campaign. Results from this monitoring will be used to identify areas with sub-optimal performance, and better understand the reasons why children were missed in these areas. Future campaigns can then adjust strategies to ensure all children receive OPV and Iraq again becomes polio free.

For more information, please contact: · Dr. Marzio Babille, UNICEF Iraq, +964-7809194142,
· Dr. Syed Jaffar, WHO Iraq, +964-790 194 4039,
· Dr. Jeffrey Bates, UNICEF Iraq, +964- 7801964524,