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Tanzania ramps up nationwide vaccination against polio

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Tanzania
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Dodoma, 18 May 2022 – The United Republic of Tanzania has launched its second round of vaccination against wild polio. The World Health Organization (WHO) in Tanzania being at the fore-front of the nationwide vaccination drive, committed to continue providing technical and coordination support in close collaboration with the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, UNICEF and health partners.

The supplemental mass vaccination campaign running from 18—21 May 2022 in the country’s 195 districts and targets to reach a total of 10 576 805 under five children. The first round of the campaign from 24 to 27 March reached over 1 million children in four regions bordering Malawi, namely: Mbeya, Njombe, Ruvuma and Songwe.

Speaking at the national launch event in Dodoma, the capital of Tanzania, the Minister of Health for Mainland Honourable Ummy Mwalimu (MP) appealed to parents and caregivers across the country to invite vaccinators in their homes during the four days of the campaign.

The launch event was attended by political leaders, religious leaders, and senior officials from the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Community Development, Gender Elderly and Special Groups, the President’s Office Regional Administration and Local Government as well as members of public that included mothers who had children ready to be vaccinated.

The Guest of Honour also launched a National Polio Social Behavior Change Communication Strategy that will guide efforts to raise awareness and sustained knowledge and demand for polio vaccination.

Likewise, in Zanzibar, the Ministry of Health and partners also organised a launch event that was officiated by the His Excellence the Vice President Honourable Hemed S Abdalla who called on parents to invite vaccinators and ensure every under 5 child in the Isles get vaccinated in the four days of the campaign.

When an outbreak of polio is reported, WHO guidelines requires implementation of specific preventive measures including supplemental vaccination of all under 5 children in the affected country and neighbouring countries.

“This campaign is an important intervention for Tanzania to make sure that all eligible children get the polio drops. We are grateful to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative and donors that funded this important exercise that is key to maintain Tanzania polio free,” said Dr. Zabulon Yoti, Acting WHO Representative to Tanzania.

Malawi declared an outbreak of wild poliovirus on 17 February after a case was detected in a young child. It was also Africa’s first case since the region was certified free of indigenous wild poliovirus in 2020. This week, WHO confirmed another polio case in Mozambique. Africa’s certification as wild polio-free remains unchanged.

Following the outbreak, countries in Eastern and Southern Africa sub-region with support from the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, have launched mass vaccination drives to protect millions of children from the virus.

The United Republic of Tanzania was certified as polio-free in 2015, after years without a new polio case, despite of sensitive polio surveillance system. Immunizing every child is the most effective way to guard against a polio outbreak. Due to its sustained high coverage of oral polio vaccines, Tanzania has not detected a polio case since 1996.

Now aged 28 years old, Issa Amri Shauri, who was discovered with polio when he was three three years old in 1996 in Mtwara region Southern Tanzania shared briefly his experience, that because of paralysis of one leg he struggles to work and walk long distances.

Apart from supporting the vaccination campaign, WHO has also expanded its support in polio eradication by extending environmental surveillance for polio. Prior to this expansion environmental surveillance for polio in Tanzania was being conducted in four sites in Dar es Salaam. Now nine new potential sites have been validated by experts and are ready to start.

The surveillance drive in Tanzania is part of Africa continent-wide environmental surveillance that was initially planned to be implemented in 46 countries under the auspices of the Global Polio Eradication Programme. After the case in Malawi the continental surveillance initiative has been expanded to more sites in all countries.