TANZANIA: Vaccination campaign treats millions of children

Photo: AMREF/Chris White
Millions of children have been vaccinated against measles, polio and other diseases in a national campaign
DAR ES SALAAM, 2 September 2008 (IRIN) - Millions of parents and guardians sent their children to be vaccinated on 30 and 31 August in a national campaign against measles, polio and other diseases, officials said on Tuesday. “The exercise has been generally successful as many parents turned out with their children in most districts in the country,” Donan Mbando, director of preventive health in the health ministry, said. Vice-president Ali Mohamed Shein urged parents and guardians to make sure their children were vaccinated against measles because the disease still existed in the country. "The outbreak of the disease in Dar es Salaam and Tanga in 2006 reminds us of its existence and a possible future outbreak if children are not vaccinated.” That outbreak led to the deaths of 22 people, while the number of patients reached 3,527, of whom 1,580 were in Dar es Salaam and 1,683 in Tanga. Mbando said measles was among the major childhood diseases in the country and the goal was to cover 11,639,918 children younger than five. Polio inoculation targeted 1,715,279 children in 18 districts, especially those on the borders with Uganda, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi. The last cases of polio in Tanzania were reported in 1996. He said vitamin A drops were issued to 6,569,788 under-fives and de-worming medicine to 5,658,400 under-10s. Studies by local health institutions have revealed widespread cases of intestinal infestation with parasitic worms that consume nutrients, thus retarding children’s physical development. Vedastina Mziray, a clinical officer at Ilala District Hospital in Dar es Salaam, said the parasites destroyed tissue and organs, as well as causing abdominal pain, diarrhoea, intestinal obstruction, anaemia, ulcers and other health problems. “The consequences of such infection can include slow cognitive development and thus impair learning,” she said. In some parts of the country children were given drugs against bilharzia, also known as Schistosomiasis. Rumours spark panic However, on 30 August, Frida Mokiti, chief medical officer in the central Tanzanian region of Morogoro, suspended anti-bilharzia and de-worming exercises until further notice. Some parents and residents panicked on rumours that pupils fainted after being vaccinated, whereupon they stormed into two schools and attacked teachers – demanding the immediate release of their children. Similar incidents occurred in the south-western region of Rukwa. The regional medical officer Saduni Kabuma said a dozen pupils were sent to the Sumbawanga hospital where they were treated and discharged. He said it was suspected the drugs were administered before the children were given food. “It is recommended that meals should be served prior to taking the drugs,” he said.