Polio: Namibia has prevailed

Ministry of Health and Social Services permanent secretary, Dr Kalumbi Shangula this week however assured the nation that health authorities in the country remain on high alert, adding that the fight against the disease is not yet over.

Shangula said the country, with the help of humanitarian organisations and regional countries, had managed to combat the further spread of the deadly virus.

He said the country would continue to carry out routine immunisation especially amongst children.

Health authorities have not been able to establish the origin of the wild polio virus but researchers have established that the virus is an Indian strain.

Shangula told The Southern Times that the strain was isolated in Angola last year when one victim was affected.

“We have not been able to establish the origin but what we know is this is an Indian strain. It was isolated in a patient in Angola last year but how it came to Angola we do not know,” Shangula said.

Polio usually enters the body through the mouth due to faecal contaminated water or food.

Health experts say the incubation period for polio from the time of first exposure, ranges from three to 35 days meaning that the virus can spread widely before an outbreak is apparent.

Namibia has so far carried out three mass immunisation campaigns, which Shangula described as a success.

He said that the country recorded 280 suspected cases with 32 deaths but the number of confirmed wild polio type 1 cases remained at 20.

The government has disregarded 230 cases which had initially been suspected to be polio outbreaks.

Polio, which caught health officials in Namibia and the rest of the southern African region by surprise, normally targets children, health officials say.

Outbreaks among adults are “as rare as hen’s teeth”, says Bruce Ayward, who directs the global campaign to eradicate polio from World Health Organisation (WHO) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

Shangula said that most people who are now adults in Namibia escaped vaccination before independence.

He said that most children, including teenagers were vaccinated soon after independence.

“When you look at the profile of the patients, you will realise that children who were vaccinated after independence escaped the strain but those who were now adults when mass immunisations were carried out are non-immune but the majority of the people are quite safe,” Shangula said.

A blanket immunisation was instituted after a startling outbreak of the virus on May 10 this year.

The Namibian government also said it had spent N$14 million during the three rounds of mass vaccination.

“However, the fight against polio is not over yet. The main aim is to eliminate the wild polio virus from Namibia and to maintain our polio free status of the past ten years.

“The most important one to prevent outbreaks of similar diseases is to take our children for routine immunisation until they are fully immunised,” Shangula said.

David Heymann, World Health Organisation (WHO) director general’s representative for polio eradication had in June expressed confidence to this paper that Namibia would be able to ‘quash’ the outbreak but warned that the bigger challenge would be to knock out polio in neighbouring Angola.

Heymann then said that the wild polio virus from Angola had been discovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which borders Angola to the north.

“They are clearly not doing enough to stop the transmission,” Heymann then said.

Shangula thanked neighbouring countries which he said rendered moral as well as technical support to enable the country to deal with the outbreak.

He said the region would always be on high alert to deal with any polio outbreak.

“The region provided us with mostly moral support and solidarity though countries like South Africa provided containers whilst the private sector rendered most of the technical support,” Shangula said in an exclusive interview with The Southern Times.

He assured travellers intending to visit the country, that it was safe to do so.

In a related development, Shangula enjoined Namibians not to panic amid reports that a virulent tuberculosis (TB) strain had hit some parts of South Africa, especially parts of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN).

He said although he was still waiting for an official position from health authorities in South Africa, there was nothing to fear as Namibia was ready to deal with the disease should similar cases occur in the country.

“It is not really an outbreak, its just cases which have been reported mostly in KwaZulu-Natal,” Shangula said.

Media reports from South Africa this week said that a killer strain of extremely drug resistant TB had been found in 28 hospitals across South Africa amid fears that it could have spilled into neighbouring countries.

Media reports described the TB strain a ‘virtually untreatable super bug’ which could ‘jeopardise efforts to deal with the AIDS pandemic.’

The drug resistant TB strain is reported to have been discovered by a rural doctor Tony Moll in eastern KZN province, where it killed 52 of 53 HIV-positive patients within 16 days during a study carried out from January 2005 to March 2006.

“Your can almost be sure there will be infection in Mozambique and even further (abroad) because people travel, and quite some distance,” Willem Sturm, a medical professor was early this week quoted by the media as saying.

September 2006
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