The Ministry of Health and Rwanda Biomedical Center have on Monday, July 24, launched a comprehensive vaccination campaign to administer the second Poliovirus vaccine to children under 7 years of age.
The vaccine that was administered in two phases targets to reach over 2.7 million children in each phase.
The government decided to vaccinate children against type 2 polio because of the risk posed by cases reported in several countries, including neighboring countries [Tanzania, DR Congo, and Burundi].
Previously, the last reported case of type 2 poliovirus was in Rwanda in 1993 and globally in India in 1999. However, in 2022, Malawi reported a resurgence, and in 2023, Burundi also reported some cases.
According to Hassan Sibomana, the Acting Division Manager for Maternal, Child, and Community Health at Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), polio can be spread by infected children who have not yet developed symptoms.
“If one child starts showing signs, for example, it is possible they have already spread the virus to many of their colleagues. When we knew that there is a problem of Polio in DR Congo and Burundi, we decided to rise up to vaccinate,” he noted.
Polio, an infectious disease primarily affecting young children, targets the nervous system and can result in spinal and respiratory paralysis, and in severe cases, death.
The poliovirus is contagious and spreads through person-to-person contact. It lives in an infected person’s throat and intestines, Polio appears in environments that have poor sanitation, and it can contaminate water in unsanitary conditions, Poliovirus only infects people.
It enters the body through the mouth. It spreads through contact with the feces of an infected person. In less common circumstances, it can also spread through droplets from a sneeze or cough of an infected person.
The government is specifically vaccinating those under seven years of age because the age group missed out on polio 2 vaccine, having been born during a period when it had been removed from the International vaccination program. In April 2016, the WHO announced that Polio 2 had been eradicated in the world.
The origins of polio can be traced back to prehistoric times. Although polio has afflicted children worldwide for centuries, the first clinical description of the disease was documented by British doctor Michael Underwood in 1789, and it was officially recognized as a medical condition in 1840 by German physician Jakob Heine
Rwanda has been fortunate to be free from polio cases for over 30 years, thanks to the effectiveness of vaccines.