Four Coast counties have been listed among 11 counties at a greater risk of outbreak of vaccine-derived polio.
Following a risk analysis, Mombasa, Kilifi, Tana River and Lamu have been put on alert along with Nairobi, Garissa, Wajir, Marsabit, Killifi, Turkana, Isiolo and Mandera.
Experts say there is a build-up of thousands of under-immunised children in these regions.
The situation is further contributed by the Covid-19 lockdown where immunisation levels sank to low levels.
“This build-up of under-immunized children has previously contributed to outbreaks of polio. Most of these children come from poor families, the urban informal settlements, and the hard-to-reach parts of the country, particularly arid and semi-arid regions where access to health services is limited,” says Dr Josephine Ojiambo, a community medicine and public health specialist.
The last mass vaccination campaign in July last year targeted 2.6 million children aged 0-59 months in the 11 counties.
Dr Ojiambo said: “Missing the polio vaccine places children at high risk for more problems in future. Vaccines are the best way to keep children protected and healthy.”
She spoke in Nairobi during a joint polio immunisation exercise between Rotary Kenya and Gertrude’s Children’s Hospital at the Githogoro Slums.
Kenya lastly reported the vaccine-derived polio virus in April, 2018, when Kenya Medical Research Institute scientists found live polio viruses in sewage samples from Eastleigh estate, Nairobi.
On rare occasions, if a population is seriously under-immunized, an excreted vaccine-virus can continue to circulate for an extended period of time. The longer it is allowed to survive, the more genetic changes it undergoes.
In very rare instances, the vaccine-virus can genetically change into a form that can paralyse – this is what is known as a circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus (cVDPV).
Recently, two cases of the circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2 were reported in Sudan. Both cases concerned children under four years of age. The disease, which causes disability, has no cure but can be prevented through the administration of a simple and effective vaccine.
Getrude’s Children’s Hospital CEO Robert Nyarango, said: “The increase of cVDPV in the region can be addressed by ensuring 100 per cent immunization for all children and enhancing water, sanitation and hygiene in high-risk populations.”
Speaking at the same event, Hillary Limo, National Disease Surveillance officer at the Ministry of Health, explained that apart from polio, lack of vaccination also exposes the children to the risk of the other infectious diseases such as measles and Tuberculosis.
Limo said the ministry will intensify surveillance activities to detect any possible outbreak and will continue to collaborate with like-minded institutions to conduct countrywide polio vaccination campaigns to help boost child immunity against the virus. The campaign targets children under the age of 5 years.