A polio vaccination campaign that was planned for November but postponed due to heavy rains and floods is finally taking place in three high risk counties in the northeastern part of Kenya. This comes after 13 cases of the so-called circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2 (CVDPV2) were discovered last year in the area.
This is the third round of polio vaccination targeting three high-risk counties of Mandera, Wajir and Garissa.
The goal, according to Kenya’s ministry of health and its partners, is to reach about 750,000 children under the age of five. About 238,000 children ages 6 to 15 in certain areas will also be vaccinated.
Aden Ibrahim, Garissa County director of health, explains.
“The first case, the sample was collected in June 2023. It was a child which came from the Somalia side, later became sick and went to a health facility; they [child] were investigated because they were symptomatic, and they were confirmed as having a polio positive,” he said.
Ibrahim said soon after, more cases were detected in some of the refugee camps.
“In Hagadera camps, there were 13 confirmed cases of polio in the camps last year and that has necessitated 3 rounds of campaign to be conducted where we did the two rounds last year and this one was actually scheduled to take place last year in November,” he said.
But due to heavy rains and floods that killed 130 and displaced 89,000 the November round was postponed.
Kenya is not the only country affected by a resurgence of polio. After three decades of being polio-free, Burundi had 16 cases last year. And as of August 2023, 187 confirmed cases of circulating variant poliovirus have been reported in 21 countries in Africa Region according to the World Health Organization.
Among the many reasons this has been happening are inaccessibility to basic healthcare, conflicts and insecurity in some of the countries, and climate change, said Ibrahim.
“Polio is more of an oral-fecal transmission and because of this climate change, age of drought brings poor sanitation at the end of the day because of issue of lack of water and all those things,” he said.
The Horn of Africa region recently suffered its worst drought in decades.
To eradicate the disease, Ibrahim points out that countries need to strengthen routine immunization, invest in a robust surveillance system, and improve their respective healthcare systems.
Polio is a highly infectious and debilitating disease that affects children under 5 causing permanent paralysis. It can also cause death in 2 to 10 percent of those paralyzed according to WHO.