June 16, 2006

UN donates polio vaccines as death toll rises to 10

The early arrival in Namibia of 2.5 million doses of polio vaccine donated by the UN Children's Fund (Unicef) will give the immunisation programme scheduled for 21 June a head start. The death toll from the outbreak has risen to ten in the past two weeks.
"The vaccine will be handed over to the government medical stores, and from there it will be sent to all 35 districts," said Dr Jack Vries, chairman of the National Health Emergency Management Committee, which is coordinating the immunisation drive. Vaccine will also be distributed to all ports of entry, airlines and embassies, and "those coming into Namibia will be vaccinated at the border posts". Kalumbi Shangula, permanent secretary in the ministry of health, said the cause of death in two previous cases had now been confirmed as polio, bringing the total to 10, while 47 people were hospitalised with the virus.

Before, Namibia had announced that it was unable to handle the outbreak on its own and appealed for help. Vries said his committee had sent letters to neighbouring countries requesting additional health personnel, "but we have not yet received any response". Institutions like the University of Namibia and the Polytechnic of Namibia had promised volunteers. A daily newspaper quoted Minister of Health Richard Kamwi as saying that neighbouring Botswana and South Africa were willing to provide medical personnel to help in the polio vaccination campaign.

The last polio outbreak in Namibia was recorded in 1995. In the current outbreak the first case emerged on 7 May in Aranos, a small town 395km south of the capital, Windhoek. Health officials said the disease was being caused by an imported poliovirus strain of the Indian type, which was isolated in Angola last year. (Independent Online, South Africa)

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