Uzbekistan begins immunization campaign to prevent polio importation

In response to a poliomyelitis (polio) outbreak in neighbouring Tajikistan, the Government of Uzbekistan, supported by international partners, launched a nationwide immunization campaign on 17 May. The campaign covers all 12 regions of Uzbekistan, Tashkent and the Karakalpak Autonomous Republic (Karakalpakstan). More than 2.8 million children will be vaccinated over the next 6 days. The campaign is intended to prevent the importation of polio from countries with outbreaks.

“We are ready to prevent the spread of polio. All the necessary preparations have been made to ensure that this campaign reaches our children,” stressed Dr Saidmurod Saidaliev, Chief Medical Officer in Uzbekistan, at the launch of the campaign in Tashkent. Immunizing all children under 5 years of age is crucial to prevent the re-emergence of a disease that had been under control. Reaching every child, including those living in remote areas bordering Tajikistan and Afghanistan, is the primary objective.

The campaign has two rounds. The first round began on 17 May, and is expected to increase the level of immunity in the community as a whole. The second round is scheduled for 7–13 June 2010. The campaign will ensure high immunity against poliovirus among children under 5.

International partner agencies, including WHO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), are mobilizing resources to support the country’s immunization efforts. Rotary International and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) have generously supported the campaign.

At present, WHO, UNICEF, and the Field Epidemiology Training Program of the United States Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) in Almaty, Kazakhstan, are providing technical experts and assistance in monitoring the implementation of the campaign, in partnership with the Ministry of Health.

Stronger surveillance

The surveillance system in Uzbekistan has identified 29 cases of acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) since 1 January 2010: 23 have been laboratory confirmed negative for polio and 6 are pending laboratory results. This number is within the normal range expected in the country. Uzbekistan continues to monitor for AFP.

Preventive measures

Although Uzbekistan remains polio free, the threat of an outbreak causes great concern. The last wild poliovirus in Uzbekistan was isolated in 1995. In April 2010, neighbouring Tajikistan reported an outbreak of wild poliovirus in an area bordering Uzbekistan: the first importation of poliovirus into the WHO European Region since it was certified polio free in 2002. Owing to continuous population movements within and between countries, the risk of onward spread of poliovirus is considered high.

No cases of polio have been confirmed in Uzbekistan. The Government has been quick to address the risk of possible importation from other countries, and is working with international partners to ensure that the virus does not spread.

At present, wild poliovirus is indigenous in only 4 countries around the world: Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan. This is a dramatic decrease from the figure for 1990: over 125 countries.