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Unicef procures 6.9 million polio doses

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United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) Malawi has said it will procure and distribute 6.9 million polio vaccine doses to approximately 2.9 million children under the age of five in Malawi.

In a statement issued Wednesday, Unicef Malawi said the doses were in response to a polio outbreak announced by the Ministry of Health on February 17 this year.

Unicef, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative— namely Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Rotary and Centres for Disease Control and Prevention— are supporting the Ministry of Health to vaccinate all children under the age of five in four mass vaccination campaigns.

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According to Unicef, the first vaccine shipment is expected to arrive in the country ahead of the first immunisation campaign, which is scheduled to begin in coming weeks.

Unicef further says it is installing 223 vaccine refrigerators, repairing 51 vaccine refrigerators and distributing 200 vaccine carriers and 38 cold boxes to health centres across the country in preparation for the mass vaccination exercise.

Unicef Representative Rudolf Schwenk said the resurgence of wild poliovirus in Malawi, decades after it was last detected, is a cause for serious concern.

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“Vaccination is the only way to protect the children of Malawi from this crippling disease, which is highly infectious,” Schwenk said.

The mass immunisation campaign will take place while the country battles the Covid pandemic and after-effects of Tropical Storm Ana, which damaged healthcare, school and road infrastructure in the southern parts of the country.

“Health workers and caregivers must observe strict health and safety measures against Covid during the upcoming polio immunisation campaigns.

“Together with partners such as WHO and the Malawi Red Cross Society, we are supporting the Government of Malawi to train health workers and inform parents, communities, local and religious leaders about the importance of this immunisation exercise,” Schwenk said.

The nationwide vaccination campaigns will target about 2.9 million people with bivalent Oral Polio Vaccine against wild poliovirus type 1.

The first-round campaign is expected to start in March 2022, with the rest taking place in April, May and June 2022.

Polio is a highly infectious viral disease which mainly affects children under the age of five. The poliovirus enters the body through the mouth when eating food or drinking water that is contaminated with faecal matter from a person who carries the poliovirus.

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