Kyrgyzstan: A few drops keep a country polio-free

تم النشر: 22 سبتمبر 2010 0:00 CET

Chinara Asanova and Giovanni Zambello

Three-year-old Uylus Jumabekova gently opened her mouth to let the nurse drop in some “vitamins” – it was her grandmother’s explanation to help her take her vaccine against polio.

She swallowed the not very tasty medicine, slightly knitting her brow, and then forgot the short interlude. She leapt down from the chair and ran out to tell her friends her latest story – she would study in Moscow and travel with her grandmother who would cook for her.

This scene took place in Ak Jar, one of the 21 newly-erected neighbourhoods in Bishkek, capital of the landlocked Central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan, where the local Red Crescent society was participating in the national campaign against the crippling disease.

Very grateful

“While conducting house-to-house visits and explaining people why children should be vaccinated, we noticed that all our neighbours were very grateful,” said Kandalat Kambarova, Uylus’ grandmother, who is herself a Red Crescent volunteer. “Some of them were nearly in tears. The reason is that they do not receive regular medical services.”

“At eight in the morning, Ak Jar residents brought their children to my house, there were over one hundred people,” said Gulnara Mendibayeva, owner of the house where a temporary vaccination post was established. “Our campaign has become a real event for the local community: more than 300 children have been vaccinated in three days.”

In July and August the Red Crescent Society of Kyrgyzstan, in cooperation with the Ministry of Health, WHO and UNICEF, conducted a two-round national vaccination campaign against polio.

Free vaccination

Free vaccination was given to 95 per cent of children aged under five throughout the country. Such high coverage was achieved thanks to the social mobilization activities carried out by the National Society among communities living in informal settings and remote areas.

Jamshytbek Kyzy Meerim, a chief nurse in a Family Medicine Centre, explained that the vast majority of parents learned about the campaign from leaflets distributed by some 500 Red Crescent volunteers.

No cases of the disease have been reported in the country over the past 18 years and, as of today, Kyrgyzstan still maintains its polio-free status. Nonetheless, as an outbreak was registered in neighbouring Tajikistan, the risk is always present.

Summer holidays were ending when the National Society employees decided to make a surprise for the children living in informal settlements: a puppet show was used to invite parents to clinics to have their children immunized. The main message of the performance was that polio vaccine is something painless and simple – you should just open your mouth and let a doctor drop the vaccine in. One minute ensures prevention.

In the southern regions of Kyrgyzstan, where thousands were affected by clashes in June, the local Red Crescent branch recruited and trained volunteers, disseminated information, and conducted household visits to ensure successful implementation of the national campaign.