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General News of Thursday, 9 November 2006

Source: GNA

Ghana to be certified as polio-free state

Accra, Nov. 9, GNA - Ghana has succeeded in recording no wild polio virus for three-continuous years, a sign of successful eradiation of polio, Dr Kwadwo Antwi-Agyei, Programme Manager of the Expanded Immunisation Programme of the Ghana Health Service, said on Thursday. Speaking to the Ghana News Agency (GNA) in an interview in Accra Dr Antwi-Agyei explained that Ghana, since September 2003 recorded no virus and the only way to maintain a polio-free state was to ensure high immunity levels for children under-five years.

He said in 2003 when Ghana was about to complete its third year to be certified as a polio-free state, "We had eight imported cases from February to September from Nigeria and that took us back gain and we started all over again."

Dr Antwi-Agyei told the GNA that after meeting all the requirements to become a polio-free country, it was left with the World Health Organisation (WHO) to assess and certify the country as polio-free. "Though we will be certified as polio-free, we will still stand at risk once our neighbour Nigeria had more than 500 cases in 2005 and about 847 cases as at October 3, 2006; we have to intensify our high immunity levels and be alert on our borders."

Dr Antwi-Agyei said though measles was still the leading cause of illness among the vaccine preventive diseases for children under-five years, no death had been recorded for the past two years.

He said there had been a dramatic fall from 13,476 suspected cases in 2001 to 487 cases in 2005 after a large outbreak in 1995, which recorded over 44,000 cases and 85 deaths.

Dr Antwi-Agyei noted that measles was in the early 1980s ranked second to malaria in terms of burden of diseases accounting for 7.3 per cent of the healthy days of life lost through illness, disability and death.

He explained that measures were put in place to control the outbreak, which involved intermittent vaccination. Measles vaccination has since been incorporated in routine immunisation of children at nine months of age.

Dr Antwi-Agyei noted that measles was a highly contagious disease, caused by a virus and its control required very high population immunity and gave the assurance that the vaccines that were given at the just-ended Integrated Child Health Campaign were safe and highly effective.

He explained that indicators used in achieving the fourth target of the Millennium Development Goals, which target the reduction by two-thirds under-five mortality, had a proportion of under-one year old children immunised against measles.

"This can be done if districts attain more than 90 per cent coverage consistently," he said.

He described measles as a killer disease, which when complicated, caused blindness, diarrhoea, sore in the mouth, affected the brain, enteritis and pneumonia. He urged mothers to ensure that their children took the first dose at the age of nine months and the second dose during the campaign exercise which will come off in November.

Dr Antwi-Agyei mentioned symptoms of measles as fever cough rashes and redness of the eyes and urged mothers to watch for these signs and report immediately to the nearest clinic.

He described the last immunization exercise as successful and said there were indications that the target set would be achieved though they were now compiling their reports.

The exercise, which started on November 1 and ended on November 5, combined measles and polio immunisation, administering of vitamin A and distribution of 2.1 million free Insecticide Treated Nets (ITNs) to children less than two years.

About 5.959 million children from 0-59 months were immunised against polio and about 5.065 million children from nine months to 59 months were vaccinated against measles.

There were 9,050 immunisation points, 9,505 vaccinators and 28,514 volunteers to ensure that all children were covered. 9 Nov. 06