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Uganda polio outbreak threatens 2.2m children

By EDITH MUTETHYA in Nairobi, Kenya | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2021-08-19 09:57
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A child is pictured in Luweero district, Uganda, on July 28, 2021. [Photo/IC]

Uganda's Ministry of Health has reported a polio outbreak in the country, following confirmation of positive laboratory tests from environmental samples in the capital Kampala.

The samples were collected from sewage plants in Bugolobi and Lbigi, which are two of the sentinel environmental surveillance sites in Kampala.

In a statement on Tuesday, the ministry said results from the tests carried out at the Uganda Virus Research Institute confirmed a circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2, also known as cVDPV2.

According to a Xinhua News Agency report citing government data, more than 2.2 million children in the country are at risk since they have no protection against this type 2 virus.

The detected virus has a genetic linkage with a circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2 strain reported in Sudan. The virus affects children in communities with low immunity levels.

The ministry attributed the resurgence of polio to the reduced routine immunization and polio immunization rates in the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It also warned that incessant cross-border movement among neighboring countries and the countries from the Horn of Africa region currently affected by cVDPV2 outbreaks pose a risk of further polio importations.

In the past 12 months, more than 19 African countries have declared cVDPV2 outbreaks, including three countries bordering Uganda-the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and Kenya.

"Polio does not respect borders and is spreading fast in the East African region putting children, particularly those aged 5 and below, at the risk of contracting this incurable disease yet vaccine preventable disease," the ministry said.

The ministry has heightened surveillance of polio in the country by intensifying the search for cases in all health facilities by reporting and investigating all children under the age of 15 with sudden onset of paralysis or weakness in the arms or legs, and expanding environmental surveillance.

Plans are also underway to conduct a nationwide house-to-house polio immunization campaign between October and December, targeting children aged 5 and below.

All healthcare workers participating in the campaign will be required to wear face masks and strictly observe COVID-19 standard operating procedures, so as to ensure children are safely vaccinated, according to the ministry.

Uganda was certified free of all polioviruses in 2006.

Polio is a viral disease that is transmitted from person to person, mainly through a fecal-oral route. It can spread through contaminated water or food.

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