Sierra Leone begins nationwide polio immunization campaign

Rafat Salami

Sierra Leone has launched the 2017 Round One National Polio Immunization targeting 1.5million children less than 5 years of age across the country.

Deputy Health and Sanitation Minister Madam Madina Rahman who launched the immunisation campaign said the government was committed to making Sierra Leone a polio free country.

She said the government was “committed to providing accessible and affordable quality health care services to the nation as well as ensuring that the free health care is implemented to save the lives of our vulnerable women and children.”

The Deputy Minister also stressed the importance for mothers to access the nearest clinics in their communities and make sure their children benefit from the routine vaccine and other services.

Madam Rahman reiterated that the vaccine administration is free of charge, and reminded parents that no amount of money should be demanded by caregivers or vaccination teams as there is no cost attached to services provided.

Friday 24th February, Sierra Leone launched its first National Immunisation Days for 2017, which aim to protect all children less than 5 years of age against polio. Routine vaccinations will also be done for children aged 0-23 months.

Polio is a devastating virus, for which there is no cure. It invades the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis in a matter of hours. It can be prevented through immunization. Given multiple times, the polio vaccine almost always protects a child for life.

Dr. Chimbaru, Acting Country Representative for the WHO in Sierra Leone, speaking on behalf of UN partners said “vaccines are safe and free and critical for saving lives’ appealing to parents to “remember, the health of your child is in your hands! Make sure you take your child to get all their vaccines so that they have the best possible chance at life.”

Chimbaru commended health workers, the Government and partners for their tireless efforts in reaching children with lifesaving vaccines, and acknowledged some key achievements in this area in 2016.

Chimbaru added however that it is often the most disadvantaged children and communities that are left behind, and that every effort needs to be taken to ensure that all children are reached with lifesaving immunisations.

Mr. Alexandra Chimbaru reiterated that Sierra Leone has made tremendous progress in expanding vaccine coverage, adding that the country in 2016 participated in a remarkable synchronized global switch from using trivalent to bivalent oral polio vaccine.

He disclosed that there are currently 18 countries globally at risk of polio outbreaks, 14 of these in Africa, including Sierra Leone.

The Deputy Programme Manager, Child Health and Expanded Programme on Immunization, Dr. Mariama  Murray said the EPI programme was first launched in Sierra Leone in 1970, with the last case recorded in 2010.

The polio immunisation programme will end on Monday 27 February.

Sierra Leone’s progress against polio, according to the WHO:

  • Last year, the country participated in a remarkable synchronised global switch from using trivalent to bivalent oral polio vaccine. This was a major milestone in accelerating the Polio Eradication Initiative and the Polio End Game Strategy, which aims to completely eradicate Polio from the world.
  • Four rounds of Polio Immunisation Days, targeting children aged 0 to 59 months, achieved on average, coverage of 98%.
  • Coverage of the Penta 3 vaccine, which provides protection against five major diseases, increased from 85% in 2015 to 98% as of October 2016.

3,500 teams have received orientations and training under the programme in 2017, which will target 1,529,000 children aged under-five.

Rafat Salami