Rwanda’s new polio vaccination campaign targets 2.7 million children

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The government on Monday, July 24, has launched a comprehensive vaccination campaign against Polio 2, following reported cases of the disease in neighboring African countries, including Burundi.

Type 2 poliovirus had been declared eradicated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in September 2015, leading to the removal of its vaccine from international vaccination programs in 2016.

Previously, the last reported case of the virus dated back to 1999 in India. However, in 2022, Malawi reported a resurgence, and in 2023, Burundi also witnessed some cases.

In response, Rwanda’s Ministry of Health, in collaboration with UNICEF and WHO, has launched a 5-day vaccination campaign targeting children below the age of 7 years, as they were born after the Polio 2 vaccine had been removed from the regular vaccination schedule.

Hassan Sibomana, the Acting Division Manager for Maternal, Child, and Community Health at Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), emphasized the importance of the campaign in preventing a potential epidemic. He said that the aim is to reach out to more than 2.7 million children in Rwanda within the designated 5-day period.

“Vaccination is of utmost importance in preventing polio. Rwanda has been fortunate to be free from polio cases for over 30 years, thanks to the effectiveness of vaccines,” Sibomana explained.

Solange Nzayisenga, a parent whose children received vaccinations on the campaign’s first day in Nyanza district, expressed gratitude for the outreach effort.

“We are extremely grateful for this initiative. I understand the severity of polio and how it can disable children,” she said.

Polio, an infectious disease primarily affecting young children, targets the nervous system and can result in spinal and respiratory paralysis, and in severe cases, death.

The origins of polio can be traced back to prehistoric times, as evident from ancient Egyptian depictions of children with withered limbs characteristic of the disease.

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 recognized as a medical condition in 1840 by German physician Jakob Heine.