Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Kenya disregards Catholic bishops' call to boycott polio campaign

By Esther Nakkazi

If the Kenya polio vaccination programme was not successful, one of the strategies was to appeal to the Vatican and ask the Pope to issue a support statement.

The aim would be to alert him on the fact that polio in Kenya is polio all over the world, in other wards it can spread everywhere. Yet immunisation is evidence-based, cost-effective and a safe intervention.

They also had a strategy to appeal to Rotary International, which has made great contributions towards the eradication of this preventable disease.

So thank God, Kenyans did not heed to the Roman Catholic bishops call to boycott the week long polio vaccination campaign that started on August 1st 2015.

Dr Nicholas Muraguri the director of Medical Services reportedly said that by the third day of the immunisation campaign, the target was surpassed with about 4 million children immunised across the country against the targeted 3.6 million. Overall 6 million will be immunised.

Kenya had the last Polio outbreak in 2013 with 14 cases and two deaths. East African has porous borders, which means a polio case in Kenya will not only be their problem but for East Africa and the entire world.

The country is also a hub for refugees, which makes the population vulnerable and hence a need for high immunisation coverage to boost herd immunity.

Although Polio can be prevented by vaccination it cannot be cured, it is irreversible, highly infectious, attacks the nervous system causing paralysis and mainly affects children under age 5.

Shortly before the campaign commencement, the Catholic bishops called for a boycott unless the vaccines were tested at a certain laboratory for ‘safety’ although regulations require the one approved by World Health Organisation (WHO). The manufacturer ignored their calls for more tests and the government did not back them up.

Of course this will have long term effects on uptake of vaccines in Kenya. But it also plays out exactly the way it happened in Nigeria, which only on July 24, 2015, celebrated the successful interruption of the polio virus. If no new cases are recorded by 2017 it would have achieved polio eradication.

In Nigeria, the religious, community and academia leaders said the vaccine was dangerous and raised a false alarm. The community responded. The voiceless children became victims of their parents wrong choice. Health workers were tragically murdered while going from house to house to immunise children.

Now, the Kenyans can exchange notes with the Nigerians. But the polio eradication team of Kenya should also sit and review their advocacy strategies and engagement process with stakeholders.

If the Government has been dealing with the religious leaders forever, why are they losing a key partner at this point in time? The Catholic bishops are a key make-up they own and run catholic mission hospitals and schools. If they fall out the faithfuls might follow suit.


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