Kenya issues polio outbreak alert

NAIROBI, Feb 25, 2009 (Xinhua via COMTEX News Network) -- The Kenyan government and the UN health agency on Wednesday declared a polio outbreak and sounded a warning over its spread.

The country's health ministry and the World Health Organization have said two cases have been reported in Turkana district, in northwest Kenya of the infectious disease.

The Director of Public Health and Sanitation at Health Ministry Dr. Shahnaaz Sharif said emergency vaccination has been ordered in the area and is set to begin within the next two weeks.

The confirmed case of Wild Polio Virus type 1 is said to be an importation from southern Sudan.

"It (the campaign) will be done in two rounds tentatively from early March, because it has to coincide with the rounds in southern Sudan, Eastern Uganda and Ethiopia, which are also affected," Dr Shariff told journalists in Nairobi.

"Mothers in Kenya should be worried because one case of polio is considered as an outbreak," he added.

Dr. Shariff said the government now required five million shillings to conduct emergency campaigns in the affected areas.

The campaign will include mobile house to house strategies covering all manyattas (homesteads) and fixed posts to reach a target of close to 100,000 children in Turkana district under five years old. He defended the regular vaccine stock out saying it was an international crisis.

"There has been a vaccine shortage internationally because about four major vaccine manufacturers in India have been stopped due to quality, and there has also been a fluctuation in foreign exchange," he said.

"Our agreement with UNICEF on vaccines also expired in December 2007 and it took about six months to renew the vaccine agreement."

WHO representative to Kenya Dr. David Okello said that the two cases were a cause to worry about.

"In a polio free country like Kenya, one case is an outbreak, certain actions have to be taken." WHO recommends that an emergency vaccination campaign be conducted four weeks after a reported polio outbreak to contain the disease.

Dr. Okello recommended that Kenya scales up its routine immunization to ensure it remains polio free.

"Since about the time of the post election disturbances, we have noticed a slackening in routine immunization in many parts of the country," Dr. Okello said.

"We were doing very well at the end of 2007, our coverage had gone up but I must say things have started weakening and there are many children who are not covered by our routine immunization."

The WHO official said that although Kenya was considered the best across Africa in some areas of immunization, the coverage had now come down to about 60 percent in some parts of the country, which is far below the 80 percent coverage recommended by the global health body.

Kenya has remained polio free for the last 20 years owing to intensified polio campaigns.

Polio is a viral disease of the nervous system with a tendency of causing sudden weakness of the legs and arms, causing paralysis, but is controlled through immunization which is given routinely at birth and then at six weeks, 10 weeks and 14 weeks.