Health experts in Bangladesh have successfully immunised 22 million under-five children against polio, a debilitating disease that mainly strikes children.
“We hope we will be able to make Bangladesh polio-free by 2011,” Salma Begum, a local field worker told IRIN in a suburb of Dhaka, adding that there had not been a single case of polio in the country since November 2006.
Field workers from the government’s health and family planning department, along with 600,000 volunteers administered the oral polio vaccines (OPVs) to children on 29 November at 140,000 sites across the country, followed by a four-day house-to-house search to ensure that no child was left out.
“When the immunisation team visited our slum, I took my two younger brothers to them to receive the drops and capsules,” said seven-year-old Shapla Khatun of the Shekher Tek slum in Dhaka’s Mohammadpur area. Shapla’s father is a rickshaw puller. Her mother works as a domestic help.
About 22 million under-fives, or about 97 percent of that age group, were immunised against polio, as part of Bangladesh’s current (17th) national immunisation day (NID), with each one receiving two drops of OPV and a vitamin A capsule as part of the first round of the campaign.
Vitamin A is given to children to bolster their immune system against diseases such as measles, diarrhoea and night blindness.
Coverage of vitamin A supplementation increased from around 50 percent in the mid-1990s to above 95 percent in recent years, according to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).
The government of Bangladesh, with support from UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), carried out the campaign.
Photo: David Swanson/IRIN
Children under five years of age are particularly susceptible
Re-emergence of polio
Polio (poliomyelitis) is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus. It invades the nervous system, and can cause paralysis or even death within hours, say health experts.
The polio virus enters the body through the mouth, or in water or food that has been contaminated with faecal material from an infected person. The disease mainly affects younger children, but in rare instances, can affect older children as well.
Bangladesh launched the drive to immunise all under-five children when, after a lapse of five years, a case of polio was detected in March 2006.
Eighteen polio cases were thereafter detected in 12 districts across all divisions of Bangladesh, with the last one reported on 22 November 2006, according to UNICEF.
Since the 2006 detection, there have been six polio NIDs in 2006 and four in 2007. In each case 95-98.2 percent of under-five children were immunised.
With support from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Micronutrient Initiative, UNICEF and WHO, the government of Bangladesh added vitamin A capsules which were dispensed with OPV during this latest NID.
“The current NID round is sure to go much beyond containing the recurrence of polio alone," said Carel de Rooy, UNICEF representative in Bangladesh.
"By combining OPV and vitamin A supplementation, the NID campaign will be able to reduce a host of other illnesses like measles, diarrhoea and night blindness that pose threats to the lives of children in Bangladesh," he said.
Measles and diarrhoea contribute to over 25 percent of deaths among children aged 1-5 in Bangladesh, UNICEF has reported.
The annual number of under-five deaths per 1,000 live births was 69 in 2006.
“Bangladesh is again a polio-free country since 2006, but the threat of recurrence of the virus still exists. We need to sustain our achievements made during the previous NIDs, along with the routine EPI [Expanded Programme on Immunisation] coverage, particularly in hard-to-reach areas,” said Duangvadee Sungkhobol, WHO representative in Bangladesh.
The second round of the current NID will be on 3 January.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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