By Francis Kagolo
About 2.1 million children below the age of five are to be immunised against polio in a new mass campaign in 36 ‘high risk’ districts.
The ‘door-to-door’ immunisation campaign worth sh8.8b is funded by the Government, UNICEF and Rotary International.
Following the outbreak of polio in neighboring Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia, health experts last month warned that Uganda risked a similar outbreak if nothing was done to prevent it.
The three-day campaign, scheduled to kick off on September 21, will run in the districts mainly along the Uganda border with Kenya and Somalia.
They include Amudat, Bududa, Bugiri, Buikwe, Bukwo, Bulambuli, Bundibugyo, Busia, Buvuma, and Iganga.
Other districts include Isingiro, Jinja Kaabong, Kabale, Kabarole, Kamwenge, Kanungu, Kapchorwa, Kasese, Kisoro, Kotido, Kween, Kyegegwa, and Kyenjojo.
According to a statement from the ministry of health, Manafwa, Mayuge, Moroto, Nakapiripirit, Namayingo, Napak, Ntoroko, Ntungamo, Rubirizi, Rukungiri, Sironko, and Tororo districts will also benefit.
“The campaign is intended to reach out to every child especially those children likely to have missed out by the routine vaccination programs,” the director general of health services, Jane Aceng, said in the statement on Tuesday.
She however, explained that the supplemental campaign will replace the routine immunisation.
She urged parents and guardians to take children for immunisation against all the nine immunisable diseases before their first birthday. The diseases include Measles, Diphtheria, Whooping Cough, Tuberculosis, Meningitis, Polio, Pneumonia, Hepatitis B and Tetanus.
“Children who will not have received this supplemental dose during the campaign should go to the nearest health facility or outreach for their due routine Polio and other vaccines doses,” Aceng said.
“The ministry appeals to communities in the affected districts to cooperate with the vaccinators and allow them to vaccinate their children under five years. The vaccines are safe and have been certified by the World Health Organization.”
Uganda is one of the countries with the highest number of un-immunised children, currently standing at about 153,616 and 258,580 under-immunised who are at risk of contracting vaccine-preventable diseases.
Polio alone is considered one of the most deadly vaccine-preventable diseases, accounting for an estimated 777,000 childhood deaths per year worldwide, with more than half of these occurring in Africa.
Uganda suffered a setback in immunisation coverage in 2006 when the Global Alliance for Vaccines (GAVI) suspended cash support to the country following the misappropriation of US$4.3m (about sh7.6b).
Immunisation coverage dropped from 83% in 2008 to 76% in 2009/10, according to health ministry statistics.
As the downward trend continued, the national immunisation coverage reached 52% in 2011, turning Uganda into the same category of countries like Somalia which have the lowest number of fully immunized children in the world.
GAVI this year reinstated its cash support for immunisation with US$20m (about sh51b). The Government Currently provides free vaccines in both public and private health facilities in addition to routine mass immunization programmes.