Polio Vaccination Campaign
In October 2021, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative reported two polio cases in Bissau and one in Biombo, a region neighboring the capital of Guinea-Bissau. The Ministry of Public Health, with assistance from UNICEF, WHO and partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative commenced two polio vaccination campaigns in 2022. “Polio Never Again” vaccinated hundreds of thousands of children in April and June 2022, successfully preventing the spread of the disease, and ensuring that no child in Guinea-Bissau will suffer from polio in the future.

The Vaccination Process in the Polio Vaccination Campaign

Guinea-Bissau’s vaccination campaign involved 3,385 volunteers, split into 677 teams, who traveled door to door in rural communities during the first round of the campaign. UNICEF reports that the campaign began in front of Guinea-Bissau’s Ministry of Public Health on April 27 and decentralized from there. In addition to administering the polio vaccine, teams also administered Vitamin A and Mebendazole.

Upon receiving their vaccinations, vaccination teams marked the children with blue for identification and counted and registered the number of children per household. Purchasing 907,000 doses of polio vaccines and five refrigerators for storage beforehand, the Ministry of Health ensured that the vaccination teams possessed sufficient vaccines when traveling across neighborhoods and villages. Furthermore, Guinea-Bissau’s Community Health Workers (CHWs) strategically planned the targeted households before the start of the campaign, guaranteeing that every child would receive a dose of the polio vaccine.

Succeeding in Spite of Obstacles

Despite the campaign’s eventual success, Guinea-Bissau’s polio vaccination campaign faced several issues throughout the two vaccination rounds. For instance, since Guinea-Bissau contains multiple islands, such as in the Bijagos archipelago which consists of 88 islands, many families frequently traveled between the islands and to the mainland and were hard to track. Coupled with limited transportation methods, vaccination teams often experienced time-consuming routes to vaccinate all children. Fortunately, by frequently interacting with each other, the vaccination teams were able to track down the vast majority of households in Guinea-Bissau.

Another problem that arose during the campaign occurred due to the cashew harvest season, which forced many children to travel to cashew nut fields with their parents. Considering the fact that cashews are among Guinea-Bissau’s top exports, many households rely on cashew harvesting for money, forcing both parents and children alike to take advantage of the short season. Luckily, by consistently interacting and providing updates to one another, the vaccination teams and CHWs were able to track down the majority of households for polio vaccination.

A Brighter Future

By the end of the second vaccination round in June 2022, Guinea-Bissau successfully vaccinated 340,462 children in the nation. With 99.2% of children under 5 vaccinated, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative considered Guinea-Bissau’s polio vaccination campaign a success, with the coordinator of the organization labeling Guinea-Bissau a “pioneer” for reaping such positive results. Furthermore, the vaccination campaign’s strategy also helped create the framework for successive national measles campaigns. Overall, because of such results of its polio vaccination campaign, one can say that Guinea-Bissau has successfully eradicated polio in children for the foreseeable future.

– Emma He
Photo: Flickr

dual outbreaksThe impact of COVID-19 has resulted in fractured economies and health care systems all around the world. While some countries are trying to recover, others just cannot catch a break. Papua New Guinea is a country that finds itself in a unique and desperate situation. With the onset of COVID-19, the country was also hit with a resurgence of polio. Dual outbreaks are a cause of significant concern for Papua New Guinea. Australia is coming to the aid of its neighbors with a substantial financial assistance plan.

Resurgence of Polio

Papua New Guinea is one of the most poverty-stricken countries in the pacific region. The country was declared officially polio-free 18 years ago, but in 2018, the virus was rediscovered in a 6-year-old child. Shortly after, the virus also emerged in multiple other children from the same general area. Polio is especially harmful to children under 5 years old and can lead to lifelong paralysis.

A few months after the polio outbreak, the Australian Government stepped in and responded by giving $10 million to Papua New Guinea’s polio immunization crusade. A few weeks later, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) received another $6 million, which an additional $15 million dedication followed in November 2018. Rachel Mason Nunn, an experienced social development worker in Papua New Guinea, stated that “We have a window right now to invest heavily in infectious diseases in Papua New Guinea. Australia should continue to invest in health care in Papua New Guinea, if not just because it is the right thing to do, but because helping our region acquire strong health systems is a vital element of Australia’s own health security.” Australia is the largest contributor to the development of Papua New Guineas’ struggling health care system.

COVID-19 in Papua New Guinea

In an extreme case of bad luck, Papua New Guinea experienced two disease outbreaks within two years of each other. In a frantic request for aid, the government reached out to the World Health Organization (WHO) in an effort to take some weight off its already overburdened health care system.  When COVID-19 hit the county, there was a limited number of testing kits available and a shortage of medical staff as well as medical supplies and protective gear. The WHO responded by deploying emergency medical teams and supplying necessary resources to upscale testing in Papua New Guinea.

The Road Ahead

Due to the support of contributors like the WHO and Australia, millions of child polio vaccinations have been administered and a sufficient number of COVID-19 testing kits are available in the country. For a country that is still dealing with diseases like malaria and polio, the people of Papua New Guinea are pushing ahead. This unique situation serves as a global reminder that the prevention and treatment of other diseases should not be neglected during the COVID-19 pandemic and that inter-country support is essential in addressing dual outbreaks.

– Brandon Baham
Photo: Flickr