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Woman sitting down getting her polio vaccination


Polio vaccination coverage in Hela and Southern Highlands Provinces has exceeded expectations following the second round of vaccinations that began after a polio outbreak was declared in June.

Hela and Southern Highlands were among eight provinces that have rolled out the comprehensive vaccination campaign led by the National Department of Health, with support from partners including the World Health Organisation (WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), Australian Government, Rotary International, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other nongovernment and private sector organisations.

Oil Search Foundation (OSF), is a key partner to the campaign, providing funding, aviation and logistical support to both Southern Highlands and Hela provinces.

OSF Executive Director Stephanie Copus-Campbell said keeping children safe from preventable diseases is at the centre of what OSF as an organisation is trying to do.

“Working in partnership with government and donor agencies is critical to ensuring we reach every child no matter where they are and to addressing this emergency,” she said.

OSF supported the polio vaccination in Hela providing a helicopter service in the first seven days with six teams from OSF also involved in the vaccination programme.

“Hela Province has reached and vaccinated 93,000 children under 15 years, meeting 82% of the target.”
- Dr James Kintwa Hela PHA CEO

He continues, “This is a significant achievement considering the difficult rugged terrain in the highlands with some places not accessible by road and demonstrates partnership at its best.”

Copus-Campbell, who is also the Chair of the Southern Highlands Provincial Health Authority said the CEO, Dr Joseph Birisi is leading a new partnership approach in the province with a goal to have all children immunised. She was proud that the recent polio vaccination program had reached over 200,000 children with a 78% coverage and that OSF was assisting.

“There is plenty more to do and the Board will be supporting Dr Birisi and his team to protect all children from preventable diseases to reach 95% by the end of the campaign.”

Despite negative reporting on the state of immunisation, Copus-Campbell says things have progressed in Hela and Southern Highlands.

“Our success to date has been due to many factors. We have a strategy in place, managed by the PHAs, that all donors are working to support. Secondly, we have many partners that are all committed to one goal – urgently improving vaccination rates. And finally, we are tapping into all resources and expertise including government and donors, health workers, the private sector, and technical advisers.

“I can’t stress enough that partnership is the way to go. I urge all stakeholders to work together under the leadership of government. We can singularly do a bit, but together big changes can happen.

OSF has worked with Dr Kintwa and Dr Birisi and their teams to look at lessons learned from the campaigns to help improve immunisation coverage in the future.

“One key lesson is the need to not look at immunisation as an emergency, but as part of an everyday service. If a mother brings her child to a health centre clinic, no matter what the reason, that child should be immunised if required. At the same time the mother can be checked as can her other children. This means we won’t have to jump from emergency to emergency and can focus limited resources on health systems strengthening,” Copus-Campbell said.

Ongoing training for health workers, regular outreach patrols and maintaining functioning vaccine fridges are all critical to improve immunisation.

Polio is a highly infectious viral disease that mostly affects children. Polio can cause lifelong paralysis and even death in non-vaccinated children. Polio has no cure and children can be protected from polio with vaccination.