South Africa
The National Polio Eradication Awareness Week
Apr 8, 2005 - 3:45:38 AM

The Department of Health in South Africa will be observing the National Polio Eradication Week from Monday 4 April to Sunday 10 April 2005 as part of the Health Month campaign that is focusing specifically on maternal and child health care in the country.

The campaign seeks to complement on the World Health Organisation 2005 World Health Day campaign slogan "Make Every Mother and Child Count" that emphasises global efforts towards the significant reduction of maternal death and child mortality.

This is in line with the Millennium Development Goals agreed on by the international community in 2000 to reduce maternal deaths by three-quarters and reduce child mortality by two-thirds by the year 2015.

During this week the Department of Health would seek to create awareness geared towards sensitising mothers, parents and communities in taking initiatives in employing available preventative measures to combat vaccine preventable child diseases such as polio and measles.

In South Africa it is recommended that children under the age of five be immunised against the most common childhood diseases. Immunisation should be administered at birth, 6 weeks, 10 weeks, 14 weeks, 9 months, 18 months and 5years of age. Childhood immunisations are given to prevent Polio, Tuberculosis, Diphtheria, Pertussis, Tetanus, Haemophilus Influenzae type B, Hepatitis B and Measles.

Dangerous childhood diseases such as measles and polio, with potential fatal complications - especially in small children - can be prevented most effectively. Parents are thus urged to ensure that their children receive their routine immunisations on time. If unsure about their children's immunisation status they can report to their nearest public health facility for screening and advice.

It has been years since a case of polio was detected in South Africa. The last case was reported in 1989. Similarly the last ten years have also been a relative quiet period in as far as measles outbreaks were concerned.

However last year the country started experiencing an upsurge of measles cases. Cases were reported in Gauteng, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu Natal, and the Western Cape and more recently in the Eastern Cape. This upsurge can be attributed to importation from neighbouring countries with poor immunisation coverage.

Therefore, as long as there are still sporadic cases of vaccine preventable diseases anywhere in the world, these diseases can easily be imported and spread within countries if all children have not been fully vaccinated.

Thus it is the responsibility and obligation of countries to ensure that standards recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to reduce childhood vaccine related disease are attained. The set routine immunisation coverage target for fully immunised children under one year is 90%. Currently the overall routine immunisation coverage for South Africa stands at 82% but some of districts are still lagging behind with less than 60% immunisation coverage.

It is therefore critical that we endeavour to strengthen our disease surveillance mechanisms in order to ensure that potential importations are identified rapidly so that appropriate responses can be initiated.

Early signs to look out for in the case of polio include sudden onset of a floppy paralysis in one or more limbs. Symptoms for measles include a red rash, high fever, runny nose, red and watery eyes and coughing. Immunisation for childhood vaccine preventable disease are available free of charge at public health clinics.

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