Recently, the government of Uganda through the ministry of Health, announced that there will be a second round of the national polio house-to-house immunization campaign on yet-to-be- communicated dates.
The reason for is that there is a poliomyelitis (aka polio) threat in the country, and all children aged five years and below are at risk of getting it. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), polio is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus. It invades the nervous system, can cause paralysis and lifelong disability, or even death in a matter of hours, and affects mainly children under five years.
In August 2021, health officials in Uganda detected the presence of the vaccine-derived polio type 2 (cVDPV2) virus in samples of faecal matter. This type of polio emerges only in populations with dangerously low vaccine coverage.
It is estimated that 8.8 million children under the age of five are expected to be immunized, including those who have already been previously vaccinated to increase their protection against polio.
In this campaign, health workers will find parents and caretakers at their places of convenience such as their homes, on the streets, shops, markets, transit points, bus parks, churches and schools. Taking the vaccination services nearer to the people including the public places is such a good initiative.
It means those administering the vaccines are likely to vaccinate many children, whose parents would have otherwise missed out going to health facilities, either because they are busy with work, and have no time moving to, and waiting in long lines at health facilities for their children to be vaccinated.
Or probably they could have missed out on such campaign messages, and any other reasons best known to them. I believe that for this campaign to yield more positive outcomes, apart from health workers and village health teams (VHTs), local leaders must also be actively involved. The locals know, understand and believe in these leaders.
The local council leaders can be engaged to go on the ground, sensitize and create more awareness about this polio campaign and encourage parents/ and or caretakers to avail their children for vaccination when health workers go into their communities.
This helps the government in having its health-related programs directly reach the intended beneficiaries, thus contributing greatly in having healthy communities and children in particular. When local leaders are involved in such campaigns and given the right information and tools, they help in debunking health myths associated with vaccines or dealing with difficult individuals who may not want to vaccinate their children as a result of mistrust and negative beliefs about vaccines.
Speaking of partnerships, the Rotary Club of Lubowa partnered with local leaders from Makindye-Ssabagabo Municipality in this campaign dubbed: “Let’s End Polio”.
The club gave the leaders information, education and communication (IEC materials) written both in English and Luganda to disseminate within areas of their jurisdiction. It also sponsored radio campaigns to convey health messages and create more awareness about polio, its causes, dangers, and how to prevent it through vaccination, and also to mobilize and encourage all those with children below five years to have them vaccinated when the ministry of Health starts the vaccination exercise.
Uganda and the world at large have made tremendous gains toward eliminating polio. Uganda had its last polio case in 2010, and partners like Rotary continue to support the government in maintaining a polio-free country through resource mobilization and information sharing.
Rotary has contributed more than $2 billion and countless volunteer hours to immunize more than three billion children in 122 countries by June 2022. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 2021 status progress report, the annual number of wild poliovirus cases has declined by more than 99.9 per cent worldwide from an estimated 350,000 in 1988 when the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched.
Polio eradication is key to achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG, 3, which looks at ensuring healthy lives and promoting the well-being for all at all ages. Apart from Uganda, other countries including Guinea-Bissau, Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya have also used the door-to-door approach in vaccinating children against polio, and have achieved tremendous results.
To stamp out polio completely, experts urge all countries to have stable health systems with strong routine immunization initiatives and health services to increase vaccine coverage.
The writer is a journalist and communication consultant