By Blessings Mpinganjira & Serah Chilora
Ministry of Health (MoH) has said it has surpassed its target for polio vaccination campaign in the second phase.
MoH spokesperson Adrian Chikumbe said yesterday, in the second phase which ran from April 25-29, the ministry vaccinated 2,974,000 against the targeted 2,922,175 children, representing a 102 per cent of vaccinated children.
“We will resume the third phase in June and July this year,” Chikumbe said.
A polio case was detected in Traditional Authority Tsabango in Lilongwe in February this year prompting government to raise an alarm for help from cooperating partners.
Chikumbe described the case as a wake-up call to the ministry to put in much effort in the vaccination strategy.
Meanwhile, as the country celebrates the milestone made in the vaccination’s second phase The Sunday Times has learnt that some religious beliefs are hampering the efforts.
Gloria Samson, 35, from Mulanje, for example, said in an interview she has not taken and will not take her children for vaccination because her religious beliefs prohibit her from accessing such services.
Samson, a mother of two, is an Apostolic Church member.
“I have two children, one is five years old and a couple of months, the other, as you can see, is very young, he will be a year and a half in a few months. I have not taken both for the vaccination that is because I do not believe in those things.
“I don’t think my children will catch polio, so it is pointless for me to go against my beliefs because of this. If the country did not register any polio case, we would not be talking about the issue of vaccination, my children do not go for any kind of vaccination,” she said.
Deputy Director in MoH Mike Chisema said they are aware of such incidents and they use dialogue and involvement of other stakeholders to change the mindset.
“Generally, issues that boarder on religion are difficult to handle in a way but also these are issues that touch on people’s rights and how we protect their rights on several diseases. It is not the ministry’s responsibility alone but it is an issue that concerns both parties.
“As a ministry, we do our part in disseminating information to the people and when we encounter such groups of people, we make sure that we emphasise the messages to them and we work with other stakeholders to ensure that the message is taken positively. As at now, we use dialogue to engage these people. However, I can confidently tell you that these incidents are in minority and sometimes we are successful in changing their minds,” Chisema said.
Health expert Maziko Matemba bemoaned the practice, saying access to health is one of the fundamental rights of any human being.
“It is so regretful that a certain section of society still believes conventional religious beliefs. Access to health is one of the fundamental rights of any individual. Polio is one of the deadly diseases. If one catches polio, you cannot reverse, one becomes disabled for life.
“We need to be mindful of what they are doing. Even though there are issues of consent for children, that consent should not be taken for granted and abused,” he said.
Matemba said government is obligated to protect its citizens, particularly the voiceless.
According to National Statistical Office’s 2018 Malawi Population and Housing Census, Apostolic Church, Seventh Day Adventist, Baptist members were estimated at about 1,644,828, representing 9.4 per cent of the population.
President Lazarus Chakwera has been urging parents and guardians to ensure that their children receive the vaccination as that is the only way to prevent the disease.
Several stakeholders including Catholic bishops and Public Affairs Committee, a quasi-religious body, joined Chakwera calling on parents and guardians to ensure that the children get vaccinated.
In March, Unicef Malawi announced it will procure and distribute 6.9 million polio vaccine doses to all 28 districts and 865 health facilities across the country for approximately 2.9 million children under the age of five.
This is the first time Malawi has registered a polio case since 1992.