National polio immunization campaign launched in Tajikistan, 4 May 2010

Today, Ms Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, concluded her two-day visit to Dushanbe, Tajikistan, to support immunization activities launched to stop a polio outbreak that threatens children across the country.

During the first day of her visit, Ms Jakab met the Minister of Health, Dr Salimov; the Deputy Prime Minister, Mrs Kurbanova; and His Excellency Mr Emomali Rakhmon, President of the Republic of Tajikistan, to advocate and support the Government in controlling the spread of the highly infectious poliovirus.

“Tackling the current outbreak and maintaining the polio-free status of the country and the WHO European Region are WHO’s and my highest priority,” said Ms Jakab, addressing journalists at the conclusion of her meeting with the President. “With no cure for polio, we are calling for the full support of all sectors of society to ensure that every child under 6 years of age receives the polio vaccine during this and other immunization campaigns, until the country is polio free again.” The mass media play a crucial role in ensuring parental demand for vaccination, she added.

Ms Jakab commended the Ministry of Health of Tajikistan for its transparent and proactive action in informing WHO/Europe through the WHO Country Office about the outbreak. “The immunization campaign starting today was organized within 10 days of the confirmation of the outbreak as polio related, which is a record time and a model for response,” she said. Ms Jakab stressed the importance of political commitment and leadership, as well as collaboration with WHO, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other international partners, to strengthen immunization and surveillance in the country and to mobilize resources. A multidisciplinary team of experts from WHO has been supporting the epidemiological investigations and response activities since 16 April 2010.

On 4 May, Ms Jakab took part with the Minister of Health in launching the national polio immunization campaign. It aims to ensure that, within a month, health workers and volunteers conduct three rounds of immunization of almost 1.1 million children under 6 in health centres and house-to-house visits across the country. The Regional Director and the Minister vaccinated some children at the central polyclinic of Dushanbe, the Tajik capital.

“I was impressed to see so many children queuing for vaccination during my visit this morning,” she said at a joint press conference following the launch. “The initial campaign in Dushanbe and surrounding districts that began on 1 May has already reached two thirds of the targeted children, which proves how effective the information distributed about the importance of vaccination and the safety of polio vaccine has been. We need to continue in this direction.”

Ms Jakab concluded her visit by briefing the representatives of the international community about the outbreak and the action taken to stop its spread, as well as longer-term work on preparedness and strengthening the health system.