Lingering concerns over polio outbreak

Instead of affecting those aged 15 and below as is normally the case with polio, the outbreak in Namibia has affected people as old as 35 and in one case even above 75, which the Minister of Health and Child Welfare, Dr David Parirenyatwa, said was very worrying.

In an interview recently, the minister said it was not just Zimbabwe that was keeping its fingers crossed that the polio outbreak would be contained before encroaching into its borders but the whole Southern African Development Community (SADC) region.

This includes South Africa, Zambia, Botswana, Mozambique, among others.

“We are all hoping that we find a way of tackling this because contrary to what we are used to that the children are at risk, if this outbreak spreads in the manner it is happening in Namibia, we will be left with a puzzle difficult to solve on our hands.

“Would this mean mass vaccinating everybody, adults and children alike against polio or what? At least in Namibia even if it came to vaccinating the whole country they would have no major problems as they have a population of about 2 million but can you imagine the scene here,” he said.

Zimbabwe has a population of at least a 14 million.

Parirenyatwa said World Health Organisation (WHO) officials were working together with SADC governments to see what they could do about the whole thing. Already some WHO officials have been on the ground in Namibia and have established that it is wild polio type that has hit that country. Namibia has already completed the first phase of mass immunisation and began the second phase last Tuesday.

Another worrying thing about polio, said Parirenyatwa, was that in its acute form it could just start off as a sudden flu and within two days one’s legs could be paralysed.

While Zimbabwe’s coverage of vaccinations even against polio was very good at 84 percent, Parirenyatwa said the country was definitely on the alert so that if any cases were detected they could be handled.

“And to think we had believed polio had been successfully eradicated as far as back as 1989. This is really a wake-up call and one that comes at a bad time when we are grappling with so many other challenges,” he said.

SADC is already burdened with HIV and Aids, malaria and other challenges like poverty. Without elaborating much, the minister said there were officials ready to deal with any cases should they break out in the country while SADC as a region waited to come up with a more lasting solution to the problem.

Zimbabwe winded up a National Measles Immunisation and Vitamin A Supplementation Programme recently involving two million children between nine and 59 months.

July 2006
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