A polio vaccination campaign targeting 800,000 children in Nairobi County will start on Thursday.
During the four-day campaign, children under five years will be vaccinated against the crippling and potentially deadly, infectious disease.
“This campaign is a supplementary move aimed at boosting the immunity of children,” said Director of Medical Services Jackson Kioko.
He added: “The campaign will be conducted through house-to-house visits by vaccination teams who will administer Oral Polio Vaccination to children under five.”
Subsequently, the campaign will be extended to 11 high-risk counties between June and July.
Early last month, the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) brought to the ministry’s attention reports of the polio virus in Nairobi County’s sewerage system.
“This virus was detected in an environmental sample collected on March 21, 2018 as part of routine surveillance activities by the Health ministry,” said Dr Kioko.
The ministry last week issued an alert after a team of experts from Kemri and Centre for Disease Control reported that they found traces of the virus in sewage samples collected in Eastleigh.
“It is unacceptable that we still have a fraction of under-immunised children in Kenya. In the 70s we used to be a model country for awesome coverage rates. We need to reclaim this position. We need to aim for 100 per cent coverage,” he said.
Dr Kioko said the ministry’s concern is that there could be some individuals in the country who are carriers of the virus and, therefore, the need to have mass vaccination.
“We do not know if the individual came and left or is still in the country, but from our observations and genetic sequencing, the virus is similar to that causing an outbreak in Somalia,” he said.
The particular virus is commonly found in a weakened form in the oral polio vaccine. Currently, the oral polio vaccine made from a live virus is given to children in three doses: At two months, four months and the last one at between six and 18 months.
Unicef Kenya deputy representative Patrizia DiGiovanni said: “We need strong and resilient health systems to effectively respond to public health emergencies.”
Children who are not toilet-trained can easily be virus transmitters regardless of their environment. Polio can be spread when food and drinks are contaminated by faeces. Most of the infected people, about 90 per cent, have no symptoms or have very mild ones that usually go unrecognised.
Given the controversies the vaccine has had in the past, Dr Kioko reassured the public that the vaccine is safe. “The polio vaccine has been certified as safe and effective by the World Health Organisation alongside religious leaders,” Dr Kioko said in a statement.
The prolonged health workers’ strike last year also cost the country its gains in immunisation coverage, with Kenya recording a 15-year low of 63 per cent, exposing children under one year to diseases such as polio, pneumonia and tuberculosis. It is estimated that 500,000 children were not vaccinated against some of the world’s most debilitating diseases.
According to the Economic Survey 2018, the coverage last year dropped by eight per cent from 1,101,279 (69 per cent) immunised children in 2016 to 1,014,894 (63 per cent) in 2017.
The 2017 figure is the lowest coverage since 2005 when it stood at the same level. During this period, the survey noted, most of the counties experienced a decrease in the coverage with only 10 regions recording an increase.