ZIMBABWE—The Ministry of Health and Child Care (MOHCC), in collaboration with the Global Polio Eradication (GPEI) Initiative, has launched a national polio immunization campaign starting  February 20, 2024.

The Global Polio Eradication (GPEI) Initiative is a partnership that comprises Rotary International, the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, GAVI-The Vaccine Alliance, WHO, and UNICEF that provides technical and financial support against polio.

Deputy Minister of Health and Child Care Sleiman Kwidini made the announcement during a media briefing, urging the people not to fear because the government had taken rapid steps to manage the epidemic.

This swift response to the outbreak to protect children at risk of polio and prevent further spread of the virus comes after regular environmental surveillance confirmed the presence of numerous instances of circulating poliovirus type 2 (cVDPV2) in sewage samples collected in Harare.

Furthermore, through increased disease monitoring, the Ministry of Health and Child Care discovered human cases of polio in Mashonaland West and Harare Province.

Without immediate action, there is a significant chance of polio transmission. This has prompted the Ministry of Health and Child Care to initiate a statewide polio vaccine campaign to protect youngsters against the illness.

This countrywide campaign seeks to quickly halt virus transmission and prevent future outbreaks, will use high-quality oral polio vaccinations.

The program has been divided into two parts, with each round aimed at more than four million children aged less than 10 years across the country, with the first round taking place between Feb. 20 and March 1, and the second between March 19 and 29, according to Kwidini.

To guarantee widespread coverage, the program combines immunization at health institutions with a door-to-door strategy, with vaccination taking place in markets, schools, and bus stations, among other locations.

This is the first time Zimbabwe is using the novel OPV2 vaccine, a critical new, but tested and safe tool in the fight against cVDPV2, launched by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in 2021.

This new OPV type 2 (nOPV2) vaccine has been successfully used in several African countries, including Ethiopia, Benin, the Congo Republic, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.

In support of the polio vaccination campaign, large scale multi-channel and multi-platform communication and community engagement activities are being rolled-out to ensure parents are fully informed and motivated to have their children vaccinated.

The social mobilization campaigns include the use of mass media and inter-personal communication through community and religious leaders, social workers, and health care workers.

Ahead of the vaccination campaign, UNICEF supported in early February a national trainer-of-trainer workshop for health workers organized in Masvingo by the Government of Zimbabwe and funded by the Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI).

Strengthening health workers in outbreak response improves the readiness, effectiveness, and quality of the planned campaigns to mitigate the impact of the virus.

More than 80 participants from all provinces attended the two-day intensive training to further support cascade trainings and operations throughout the country.

During the polio vaccination campaign, the Ministry of Health and Child Care, UNICEF, and WHO have encouraged all parents and caregivers to bring their children under 10 years old for vaccination during the campaign.

Furthermore, healthcare workers have been urged to be vigilant in identifying and reporting suspected polio cases; and community and religious leaders have been urged to support communities during the vaccination campaign and promote public awareness about polio.

Supportive supervision and monitoring of the immunization campaign is critical, and the Ministry of Health and Child Care, in collaboration with UNICEF, WHO, and partners, has trained and deployed around 85 supervisors across the country to assist and guarantee quality vaccine implementation.

These supervisors have been dispatched to the field in various parts of the country to oversee the implementation of the vaccination program.

Zimbabwe’s health workers will be moving house to house to vaccinate and protect children from polio, while teams will also be stationed at the health clinics and facilities during the campaign. 

The teams are well trained, using different accountability tools for administering the polio vaccine, keeping records, and engaging caregivers and communities to make this campaign successful.

Several other countries in the region, including Botswana, Zambia, Burundi, Rwanda, Malawi, and Mozambique, have also been affected and are working with Zimbabwe in a bid to control the outbreak.

For all the latest healthcare industry news from Africa and the World, subscribe to our NEWSLETTER, and YouTube Channel, follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn, and like us on Facebook.