WHO engages with communities in preparation for Ukraine’s third polio vaccination round

WHO

Tonk, Kosoruv and Izaura (4 months) live in a Roma settlement in Darnytsa, Kyiv oblast, Ukraine. Vaccinating Roma and internally displaced people is an important part of the polio outbreak response in Ukraine.

WHO is engaging with journalists, health workers and health mediators to prepare for the third round of Ukraine's nationwide polio vaccination campaign. Starting on 25 January 2016, this round targets 4.75 million children up to 10 years of age, providing children under 6 with the third dose required to be fully immunized, and children aged 6–10 with a booster dose for extra protection. 

Reaching the Roma population

WHO works closely with vulnerable populations, such as Roma, to ensure that children of these communities receive polio vaccines. At a training session for Roma health mediators in Kyiv, WHO explained how to approach communities on polio vaccination and asked the mediators to share their experiences and challenges. Roma health mediators are members of the Roma community who are trained to liaise between the community and the health system. Their outreach is key for reaching all children in Ukraine with polio vaccination.  

"When I visit parents in Roma settlements, I need to have a good understanding of the polio vaccine myself so I can answer their questions and explain the importance of protecting their children," says Valentina, a Roma health mediator.

During the training, mediators learned techniques from each other on how to improve vaccine uptake in their communities. They asked questions about misinformation circulating on oral polio vaccine (OPV) and how to engage communities on vaccination.

The training for Roma health mediators was one of a series WHO has organized to engage the community, including journalists, governors, educators and health workers at different levels, from nurses to heads of clinics and oblast coordinators.

Health and education come together to enhance polio vaccination 

Rounds 1 and 2 of the vaccination campaign targeted children under 6 years of age. Because the third round targets school-aged children up to 10 years old, the Ministry of Health is working with the Ministry of Education to encourage school vaccination. 

The vaccine is free for all children in the designated age groups.

Ukraine's polio outbreak

On 1 September 2015, Ukraine's Minister of Health announced that polio had been identified as the cause of paralysis in 2 children, aged 10 months and 4 years. The children live in Zakarpatska oblast in the south-western part of Ukraine. So far, no additional cases have been detected, but millions of under-immunized children in the country are at acute risk.

A safe and effective vaccine

OPV is the most effective means of stopping the spread of poliovirus and ensuring collective immunity. Vaccines for the third round were procured by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) with funds donated by the European Union Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) and made in France. They were delivered to Ukraine in strict accordance with WHO standards for packaging, shipping and storage, including monitoring and assessing temperature fluctuations. As an extra safety precaution, each bottle of vaccine is equipped with a vaccine vial monitor, which registers cumulative heat exposure over time and indicates whether it was ever stored improperly.