Tajikistan: volunteers help government tackle polio outbreak

Published: 28 May 2010 0:00 CET

Giovanni Zambello, International Federation

About 400 volunteers from the Red Crescent Society of Tajikistan, with the support of the International Federation, are currently involved in a government-led national vaccination and communication campaign after a polio outbreak was confirmed in the Central Asian country on 22 April 2010.

The outbreak comes eight years after the Republic of Tajikistan, along with many other European countries, was declared polio free; the last case of polio in Tajikistan was reported in 1997.

As of 19 May, Tajikistan had reported 432 cases of acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) in 20 districts, including the capital, Dushanbe. Of the AFP cases, 129 have been confirmed as poliomyelitis (polio) cases. The majority of cases are among children under five; approximately 62 per cent of the confirmed polio cases have occurred in children aged 1–5 years.

The operation involves some 400 Red Crescent volunteers, who are supporting the Tajik government’s three-phase vaccination campaign. The first round of vaccinations was carried out from 4 to 7 May, and the second from 18 to 22 May.

Red Crescent volunteers are also working to raise public awareness through community health promotion, and information and media campaigns in the 20 districts where cases of polio have been detected. All volunteers received a one-day training on personal protection, water safety and social mobilization.

Social mobilization

The social mobilization activities began immediately after the volunteer training was completed. The National Society volunteers are assisting the health authorities in a number of ways: the volunteers, in close cooperation with community leaders, help gather people together in one place; they are mobilizing the population for immunization through community meetings; they are raising awareness about the importance of vaccination for all children under five; they are participating as external observers at vaccination points in order to monitor the vaccinations; and they are making door-to door visits to help locate non-immunized children.

Between the vaccination rounds, Red Crescent volunteers will continue these social mobilization activities, which are being implemented in close cooperation with the ministry of health, WHO, UNICEF and the local authorities.

Results from the first round of Tajikistan’s vaccination campaign indicate that just over 1.1 million children under the age of six were immunized against polio, which represents 99.6 per cent of the target group.

During the second round of immunization, Red Crescent volunteers held 582 meetings with the population in total, covering 98,000 people. They carried out a staggering number of door-to-door visits reaching 25,620 households, which equates to 128,100 family members, including 52,500 children under six.

Between 18 and 19 May, the International Federation and the Red Crescent Society of Tajikistan also carried out monitoring exercises in a number of districts. In each district, the monitoring team met with the local health authorities in order to get an overall picture of the vaccination campaign.

Roma population

In addition to targeting the general population, volunteers are paying special attention to the Roma population within Tajikistan, particularly Roma children. The main challenge is the lack of certification for administered vaccinations, which  is particularly problematic for children, and some may have received multiple vaccinations.

There are two jamoats  (administrative divisions) in Jaloliddin Rumi district where Tajikistan’s Roma population is settled – Jamoat Ishankulov and Jamoat Tugalang – where there are 845 registered children under the age of six.

Of the 845 children, 609 were vaccinated; the 236 who were not vaccined were away travelling. Red Crescent volunteers are regularly visiting the Roma settlements to ensure that every child is vaccinated, whilst mobilization activities in emergency tent camps continue.