The Ministry of Health with the support of WHO and UNICEF are conducting a national polio vaccination campaign targeting 5.8 million children under 5 years of age and involving 12,703 vaccination teams. Photo courtesy of WHO
The Ministry of Health, with the support of WHO and UNICEF, are conducting a national polio vaccination campaign targeting 5.8 million children under 5 years of age involving 12,703 vaccination teams. A nationwide campaign to vaccinate 5.8 million children in Iraq against polio was concluded on Oct. 11, 2015 after a two-day extension recommended by the Ministry of Health to achieve maximum vaccination coverage. This effort to ensure that Iraq remains polio free also included the dissemination of life-saving information to 1.5 million households across the country on how to detect, prevent and treat cholera.
Led by the Federal Ministry of Health, in coordination with WHO and UNICEF, the seven-day polio vaccination campaign begun on Oct. 4 included nearly 13,000 vaccination teams deployed throughout Iraq. Each team travelled door to door, visiting individual households to vaccinate children against polio. The current campaign is the 11th such national effort in Iraq since October 2013, when polio was first detected in neighbouring Syria, and the fourth this year alone.
“WHO is supporting the campaign through a provision of technical expertise at national, regional, and subnational levels in high-risk areas,” says Altaf Musani, acting WHO Representative in Iraq. “Our support also includes financial assistance for polio campaign workers and finger-marking, as well as conducting surveillance activities, which is the only scientific tool to prove that polio has been contained in Iraq,” he adds.
Based on preliminary field reports from the campaign, immunization activities are being implemented smoothly. However, security constraints in parts of Ninewa, Al Shergat district in Sala El Din, and parts of Kirkuk are compromising access to all children in these areas.
“UNICEF and partners have taken an innovative approach to the double threat of disease facing children and families in Iraq,” says Peter Hawkins, UNICEF’s representative in Iraq. “In the context of mass displacement and continuing violence, the humanitarian community has succeeded in administering 36 million doses of oral polio vaccine, doubling the country’s cold chain capacity. Converging existing activities can help the very limited resources make a greater impact, and ultimately save more lives.”
In May 2015, Iraq was removed from the list of infected countries, a landmark achievement made through the continued support of WHO and UNICEF to the Federal and Kurdistan region Ministries of Health. Although Iraq has not reported a polio case since April 2014, it remains on the list of countries vulnerable to importation due to difficult access for about 20 percent of its population.