Polio vaccination on children to continue

By Arusha Times Correspondent

Vaccination of children against polio would continue although the last case of the crippling disease was reported in the country nearly 20 years ago, a senior official of the ministry of Health and Social Welfare revealed in Arusha recently.

"We will continue with the vaccination because there are still cases of polio in some countries within the region", the National Immunization Programme manager Dr. Dafrossa Lyimo told this newspaper on the sidelines of a meeting on Better Immunization Data (BID).

She said the last case of polio was reported in 1996 and traced in Mtwara region and that ever since no cases had been reported, implying that the disease had been wiped out in Tanzania.

However, she insisted that vaccination for all infants against polio would continue alongside a dozen other diseases, including tuberculosis (TB), tetanus, pneumonia, hepatitis, rota virus, patsusis, diarrhea and others.

Two years ago, the government announced that it was stepping up vaccination against polio in the border region in the wake of the confirmed cases of the disease in Somalia and the refugee camps in north-eastern Kenya.

By then cases of the disease had also been reported but not conclusively confirmed in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda.

But Dr. Lyimo assured that Tanzania had made strong investments toward national immunization programme as a key strategy to reduce infant mortality and to improve maternal health and that the country-wide coverage was about 90 per cent.

"We know that vaccines saves lives and immunization is a critical component of our health systems", she said when opening the meeting of immunization experts organized by PATH, an international non-profit dedication to save lives and improve health, especially among women and children.

Besides immunization, she attributed the declining numbers of child mortality in the country to vitamin A supplementation, the use of insecticide treated nets and improved drugs to treat malaria.

"The introduction of two new vaccines, Rotarix and PCV 13, into the routine immunization schedule has greatly contributed to these reductions", she told the meeting which took place at the Mt. Meru Hotel.

BID Initiative aims to enhance immunization and overall health service delivery through improved data collection, quality and use and is led by PATH and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation of the United States.

The Arusha regional medical officer Dr. Frida Kikoti said the task of initiating the initiative in the country and the region in particular has not been easy and stressed the need for interventions to improve immunization data quality and use.

"I strongly believe that routine immunizations and new vaccine introductions is the best investments to improve people's health around the globe as well as better data, plus better decisions and hence better health outcomes", she told the meeting.

The country programme leader with BID Dr. Zahra Mkomwa said the programme started with a focus on improving young people's sexual and productive health and expanded to improve services for people with TB and HIV.

"Our work ranges from developing lifesaving vaccines to building collaborative programmes with local governments and communities that strengthen health systems", she said.