Saturday, March 13, 2010

Gambia joins AfricaNn Countries in fight against polio

NEWS BANJUL, THE GAMBIA(MB)-The Gambia on Saturday joined 18 other West and Central African countries in the fight against polio with the simultaneous launch of immunization campaign against polio.

Speaking at the flagging off of the campaign at the Jammeh Foundation for Peace, Dr. Abu Bukarr Gaye, The Gambia’s minister of Health and Social Welfare highlighted the efforts of the government in ensuring that the country achieves its present polio-free status. He noted that the national immunization day is one of the key strategies of the polio eradication initiative (PEI) declared by the World Health Organisation in May 1988.

According to him, The Gambia has followed this international initiative by declaring its own expanded programme on immunization, aimed at reducing childhood morbidity and mortality resulting from vaccine-preventable disease. Since then, the country has conducted several national immunization campaigns, which have always recorded an achievement of over 95 percent of the target population (children between 0 and 5 years) vaccinated against polio.

However, the minister said that there is a risk of invasion of polio in the country as polio is still a feature of the neighbouring countries. He said it is against this background that the World Health Organization (WHO) recently recommended that countries in the West Africa sub-region conduct national polio campaigns targeting children less than 5 years. He added that this activity would be synchronized between 19 countries in the sub-region and beyond in order to guard against the importation of the polio virus from those countries within the sub-region where the virus still circulates.

A total of 85 million children are targeted in the campaign, with The Gambia providing 338, 148 of these.

Also speaking at the event, Dr. Thomas Sukwa, WHO representative in The Gambia said the West Africa sub region is the most fertile ground for polio, the reason that an international commitment is necessary in ensuring that it is ended. According to him, there has been some progress in the eradication of the wild polio virus, yet much more still need to be done.

He noted that the simultaneous campaign is necessary to end cross-border transportation of wild poliovirus by the end of June 2010, indicating that to achieve this goal NIDs must be of the highest quality while there should be high level of political commitment, effective coordination at the national and sub-national levels, proper micro-planning at the sub-national level including cross-border activities (such as identifying crossing points, and deployment of technical and logistical support accordingly), and independent monitoring of the process after each round among others.

He observed that despite the gains recorded in the global polio fight, 11 of the 19 polio infected countries are in the ECOWAS region, pointing out that the success of polio eradication greatly depends on delivering the polio vaccine to each and every child, including the most vulnerable and hardest to reach.

For her part, Oumu Tall, Rotary International representative in The Gambia said the country is on target and is launching the synchronized national immunization days along with the other 18 countries in West and Central Africa that will reach 85 million children.

According to her, this commitment proves the government’s unflinching resolve and readiness to give its full attention and support to the health sector.

She further urged the people to see the monthly environmental sanitation exercise (set-settal) and health inspection of foods as a blessing. “If NIDs have 100 percent coverage, routine immunization continues and the population is intensively sensitized on hygiene and sanitation, we will keep The Gambia polio-free,” she said.

She said any importation of the virus in a prior declared polio free country becomes a major setback in achieving the country’s eradication goal.

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