Since 2014, Kenya has been free of any wild poliovirus (WPV) circulation. Routine environmental surveillance by the Ministry of Health has, however, revealed traces of the polio virus Type Two in Eastleigh and Kamukunji in Nairobi County.
WPVs are naturally occurring isolates known or believed to have circulated persistently in the community and may be infectious.
In the early 1950s, before vaccines were available, outbreaks of polio, then one of the dreaded diseases, caused more than 15,000 cases of paralysis yearly in the United States. But as a result of the global effort to eradicate it, more than 16 million people have been saved from paralysis.
Although cases of polio have decreased by over 99 per cent since 1988 globally, a few countries still grapple with it.
Among the factors at play is that the virus can easily be imported into a polio-free country and spread rapidly among unimmunised populations. Failure to eradicate polio could result in as many as 200,000 new cases yearly, within 10 years, worldwide.
The risk of a polio outbreak in Kenya is quite high due to inability to vaccinate 20 per cent of the targeted 1.5 million children -- that is, approximately 300,000 children routinely yearly.
This has spurred the Ministry of Health, the Kenya Paediatric Association and other partners to launch a nationwide campaign to vaccinate all children under five years. The campaign targets 12 high-risk counties -- Nairobi, Kajiado, Kiambu, Kitui, Machakos, Meru, Isiolo, Tana River, Lamu, Garissa, Wajir and Mandera.
Health workers will employ a house-to-house strategy for eradication of the disease, which is based on preventing infection by immunising every child until transmission stops and the world is polio-free.
Polio can paralyse and even cause death. It enters the body through water or food that is contaminated with infected stool. And since it spreads very easily throughout communities, every child is at risk.
There is no cure for polio but there are safe and effective vaccines to prevent it. In instances where children are not properly immunised, the weakened vaccine virus can change its genetic structure or mutate in their intestines before being removed through human waste as a wild or naturally occurring virus.
The virus can attack non-vaccinated children who may come into contact with the stool or respiratory discharges of the infected person such as cough sputum. Many infected children do not show signs of the disease, so they easily pass it on to others undetected.
It is recommended that all children receive at least three doses of polio vaccine by the time they are a year-old. Additional vaccine doses are recommended when there is a virus detected in the community or in the environment, such as now, in order to give children additional protection against the specific type of virus that has been detected.
The vaccine is safe and harmless, even when given multiple times. In fact, the higher the number of times children are vaccinated, the more they are protected from the disease. It may cause mild side effects such as fever, mild rash, vomiting and poor feeding.
Ensure every eligible child is vaccinated during this campaign that ends Wednesday. Success of polio eradication will mean that no child will ever again endure the misery of lifelong polio paralysis.