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Guarding them young

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CHITEMBEYA—We will reach the target

Last year, the family of Vincent in Gwirenchira Village, Traditional Authority Nthache, in Mwanza, was blessed with a baby girl through the mother of the family Bernadette Vincent and named her Matilda.

In February, the first case of polio was detected in Lilongwe in a three-year-old child, raising fears of the return of the disease after 30 years of its absence in the country.

Matilda was among over 3.5 million under-five children who were at risk of the poliovirus which has devastating effects on the health of children.

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According to the Ministry of Health, poliovirus causes irreversible paralysis mainly in children aged zero to 15 years. It also has potential to infect immune-compromised adults.

The ministry said normally a child would present to a health facility with acute onset of limb weakness which progresses to paralysis and if it is a leg or an arm, it may become relatively smaller (wasted) than the normal body mass.

“It is a disabling and life-threatening disease. Polio is an infectious disease and can be passed from one person to another through ingestion of food or water which is contaminated with poliovirus,” a statement from the ministry reads.

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Vincent explained that even though her child had already received the first vaccine which is normal over the years, she received the news of the first case in 30 years with fear.

“We were, however, relieved when we heard that government would immediately administer additional vaccines of polio and today I am very happy that my child has been vaccinated. As we wait for the last dose, I know she is safe,” she said.

Her family is just one among many that were engulfed in fear for their children after government announced the first case of polio in February this year.

After discovering the case, government, with support from partners such as the World Health Organisation and United Nations Children Fund (Unicef), immediately implemented rounds of polio vaccine regardless of the past vaccination.

The vaccine will be done in four rounds and the third round has ended this week.

Expanded Programme on Immunisation Coordinator for Mwanza District Hospital, Pilirani Kanjoka, said they started the programme with pre-campaign activities where they involved religious leaders, traditional leaders and other authorities.

Kanjoka said the district is targeting 25,241 children in all rounds of the vaccines and expressed hope that the target will be achieved.

“The main challenge is beliefs of some parents whose religions do not allow their members to access medical or scientific help. We are still constantly engaging them so that they allow their children to be fully vaccinated,” he said.

In Neno, health authorities want to vaccinate 25,336 children in all the four rounds of the campaign.

Expanded Programme on Immunisation Coordinator for Neno district Kondwani Chitembeya said so far the three rounds have been good.

Chitembeya, however, indicated that some people are reluctant to take the vaccine because they are associating it with Covid “which many did not like”.

“They are saying we are bombarding them with too many vaccines. But, so far, the programme is progressing according to plan,” he said.

A Health Surveillance Assistant (HAS) from Neno Cecelia Matiya agreed that there were challenges in the campaign but insisted the targets will be met.

A partner in the programme, Unicef, apart apart from rendering medical and expertise help, distributed 11,000 phones to the HSAs for data collection, storage and distribution.

Unicef Malawi Technology Development Specialist Phidelis Suwedi said the gadgets have helped in real-time monitoring to ensure that data is accessed in real time and decisions are made while the campaign is on-going.

“This is the first time we are using this technology but there is good progress and we are able to identify where challenges are happening and we are working closely with mobile phone operators who help us to curb challenges that we may encounter,” Suwedi said.

The last case of polio in Malawi was announced in 1992 and prior to that, several children had suffered from the disease.

Like many other countries in the world, Malawi provides polio vaccine that targets poliovirus Type 1 and Type 3 following the eradication of poliovirus Type 2 several years back.

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