Nationwide house-house polio supplementary immunization campaign starts in Sierra Leone

Today Sierra Leone starts a four day nationwide house-house supplementary immunization campaign to vaccinate an estimated 1.5 million children under five years old against polio. Additional interventions integrated into this campaign include vitamin A supplementation for children 6-59 months; deworming for children 12-59 months and the identification and correction of children under 2 years that have missed their routine immunization schedules for other vaccines. This is the third round of polio National Immunizations Days campaign this year and is synchronized with all the neighboring countries of Benin, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia and Mali. 

Much progress has been made in the global fight against polio from about 350,000 cases in 1988 to only 15 confirmed cases in 2017 in just two countries representing more than 99.9% global reduction. The last confirmed polio case in Sierra Leone was in February 2010. 

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is supported technically and financially by several partners including WHO, UNICEF, Rotary International, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, CDC , World Bank, African Development Bank, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

UN Remarks at the Official Launching Ceremony of the 3rd Polio Vaccination Campaign 

Delivered by Dr Janet Kayita, 
Cluster Lead, Basic Package of Essential Health Services - WHO Sierra Leone

Freetown - 27 October 2017

Mr. Chairman/Master of Ceremonies 
Hon Minister of Health and Sanitation
Representatives from the Ministry of Health and Sanitation
Health partners and colleagues
Members of the media
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen

On behalf of the United Nations family in Sierra Leone, I would like to express my pleasure and gratitude to be here with you today and to speak on this occasion of launching of the 3rd round of Polio Immunization Campaigns in 2017. I would also like to congratulate the country and in particular the Ministry of Health and Sanitation for a successful implementation of the past two campaigns in February and March this year, which achieved 98% and 99% respectively. 

Just this week, the world commemorated World Polio Day with good news of a remarkable progress in the fight against the disease. 30 years ago, when the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched, polio paralyzed 10 children for life every 15 minutes, in nearly every country of the world. Each case was entirely preventable. As I speak to you today, the whole of 2017 has only reported 15 cases of polio in just two countries.  This is more than 99.9% reduction. We are so close to ending this debilitating disease BUT the end is when there is zero cases in every country. 

While we celebrate the achievements, we should not lower our guards, because we know that 15 cases of Wild Polio means that there are more than 3,000 infected people. Our challenge is not the 15 detected viruses, for we know that they are in 15 districts. Our challenge is the 2,985 asymptomatic infected people that are moving around with the virus and shedding it into the environment.  This explains why we have more than 100 environmental samples that have tested positive for Wild Polio virus compared to 65 samples reported in 2016.

One Wild Polio Virus case (detected in the environment or in a paralysed child), anywhere in the world puts every child at risk. We know that globalization has come with increased travel and trade. A virus in Islamabad can travel to Freetown in less than 12 hours. The UNCT congratulates the government of Sierra Leone for appreciating the Wild Polio Virus risks and the decisions to conduct this preventive vaccination campaigns among other interventions.

As we launch this 3rd round of Polio Vaccination Campaign, the UNCT applauds the Government of Sierra Leone and her partners for their continued financial, logistical and technical support which has helped to maintain a polio free country since February 2010. In a special way, I applaud the health workers and the house to house vaccinators that continue to bear the long walks, heat and thirst, to make sure that every child in Sierra Leone is vaccinated to sustain the hard earned Polio-free status. 

This vaccination campaign which starts today 27th October and ends on 30th October is a synchronized activity with all the neighboring countries of Benin, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia and Mali. In Sierra Leone, this round will target approximately 1.5 million children under the age of 5 years for a booster dose against polio regardless of previous vaccination status. Every additional dose of Polio vaccination increases the protective levels of the child’s body against this crippling disease.

The UN country team also congratulates the Ministry of health for the additional interventions integrated into this campaign. Identification and correction of children under 2 years that have defaulted on their routine schedule is highly applauded. The integration of Vitamin A for children 6-59 months and deworming for children 12-59 months is similarly applauded. This integration of services is not only good for child survival but also saves on costs of delivery to the government and time resources to parents and caretakers. Truly, this is the most cost effective way for laying the foundation for a healthy nation and national development. 

The Ministry of health has done the part of providing. I appeal to:
1.    All parents and guardians of children below the age of five years to make sure that all children receive polio and other vaccines that they may have missed. Once your child is immunized, I also urge parents to mobilize their neighbors, friends and all community members to also bring their children.
2.    All those planning and managing the Polio vaccination, including vaccinators, supervisors, community mobilisers, local councils and local authorities to ensure that every child under the age of five years in every part of the country is reached. 
3.      All Political, traditional and religious leaders, Civil society groups and the media to mobilize all parents and caretakers for this vaccination regardless of political affiliation, ethnicity or creed, because the Polio virus does not know these man made groupings.  

It is important to note that the Global Polio Eradication Initiative is being supported technically and financially by not less than 52 private and public partners and donors including, WHO, UNICEF, Rotary International, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, CDC, the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

Let me conclude by pledging that the UN will continue to support the government of Sierra Leone to sustain its polio free status until the African Region and global Polio free certification goal is attained. We shall be with you to the successful end, no matter what the price shall be. 

Thank you for your attention

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