A community health worker vaccinates a child assisted by Alice Kayitesi, the Governor of Southern Province (C) and Dr Theopista Kabuteni, the WHO Country Director. This was during the official launch of a comprehensive vaccination campaign against Polio 2, in Nyanza District, on Monday, July 24. According to Rwanda Biomedical Centre, the five-day countrywide exercise targets over 2.7 million children under seven. Courtesy
In a major campaign, the government is seeking to vaccinate over two million children under the age of seven against polio 2 in only five days.
The campaign which was launched on Monday, July 24 in Nyanza District, Southern Province, will reach out to children across the country.
Though type 2 poliovirus had been declared eradicated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in September 2015, however, a resurgence of the disease was reported again in countries like Malawi and Burundi in 2022 and 2023 respectively.
According to health officials in Rwanda, the government has decided to vaccinate children against type 2 polio due to the risk posed by some countries, including neighbouring ones, reporting cases.
Here are some things you need to know about the risk of Polio 2 in the region and the vaccination campaign.
1. Tanzania, Burundi, and DR Congo have reported cases
Speaking during a media interview, Rosette Nahimana, the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Rwanda’s vaccination programme, said Rwanda is at risk because its neighbours like Tanzania, Burundi and DR Congo have reported cases of Polio 2.
2. The Poliovirus is contagious
The poliovirus is contagious and spreads through person-to-person contact. It lives in an infected person’s throat and intestines.
According to Nahimana, it can contaminate water in unsanitary conditions.
“Polio appears in environments that have poor sanitation. It mostly spreads through faeces of infected people (if not disposed of in a proper way),” she noted.
Poliovirus only infects people. It enters the body through the mouth. It spreads through contact with the faeces of an infected person. In less common circumstances, it can also spread through droplets from a sneeze or cough of an infected person.
3. Why vaccinate only children below seven years of age?
Polio primarily affects young children, targeting their nervous system and can result in spinal and respiratory paralysis, and in severe cases, death.
The government is specifically vaccinating those under seven years of age because the age group missed out on polio 2 vaccine, having been born during a period when it had been removed from the International vaccination programme. In April 2016, the WHO announced that Polio 2 had been eradicated in the world.
4. Infected children can spread the disease even before showcasing symptoms
According to Hassan Sibomana, the Acting Division Manager for Maternal, Child, and Community Health at Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), polio can be spread by infected children who have not yet developed symptoms.
“If one child starts showing signs, for example, it is possible they have already spread the virus to many of their colleagues. When we knew that there is a problem of Polio in DR Congo and Burundi, we decided to rise up to vaccinate,” he noted.
The origins of polio can be traced back to prehistoric times. Although polio has afflicted children worldwide for centuries, the first clinical description of the disease was documented by British doctor Michael Underwood in 1789, and it was officially recognised as a medical condition in 1840 by German physician Jakob Heine.