by Daniel Ooko
NAIROBI, May 20 (Xinhua) -- Kenya's health authorities confirmed on Wednesday that 13 new cases of polio have been detected in the east African nation despite two nationwide vaccination exercises that were carried out early this year.
The country's Director of Public Health Dr. Shahanaz Shariff said the new cases were reported in Turkana district in northern Kenyan and blamed it to poor routine polio immunization.
The physician said the virus originated from neighboring countries and entered Kenya through the border district of Turkana.
His remarks came as Kenya announced that the third round of polio vaccination campaign would begin on May 22-23 and targets at2.3 million children under five years old.
"Independent monitors will go to houses and check if the child has been immunized. We will mark the house and make sure that the children who have been immunized have their fingers dipped in ink which cannot be removed," Sheriff told journalists in Nairobi.
The first and second phases of the campaign were carried out in March and April countrywide. However the virus is still circulating within Turkana district.
Health experts said even after the two rounds of the campaign in Turkana, nearly 80 percent of the reported cases had not received even a single dose of the oral polio vaccine.
Dr. Sheriff said that the five-day immunization exercise will target at all children under the age of five years in all districts countrywide.
While saying that the government had set aside over 61 million shillings (780,000 U.S. dollars)to carry out the third phase of a polio vaccination exercise next week, Sheriff outlined measures put in place to ensure this immunization drive is carried out successfully.
"Routine immunization is much cheaper. With this amount of money, we could be actually buying all the vaccines which are required for nine months. So we are spending money on campaigns while we should be using this money in immunization," he explained.
Sheriff stressed the need for key players in the medical sector to redouble their efforts in controlling the virus through sensitization exercises.
World Heath Organization (WHO) Immunization Advisor Dahir Dualealso called for concerted efforts to guard children against polio.
"The threat of polio is still there and the only time we can afford to relax is when all our children have been vaccinated with at least three doses of oral polio vaccine," he said. "We appeal to ministry officials to double their efforts to make sure that all our children get their routine vaccination doses."
The last polio case in Kenya was recorded more than 20 years ago. This year, however, at least 16 cases, all polio virus type one, have been confirmed in the Horn of Africa region.
Two of these were in Kenya, three in Uganda and 11 in Sudan, according to the WHO. The total number of cases for 2008 was 29.
The Ugandan cases, reported in the northern district of Amuru, were the first in 13 years. Ethiopia has not reported new cases in the past six months.
Polio is an infectious disease that mainly strikes children under five. It is spread primarily by the faeces of an infected person getting into the food chain. It causes paralysis and can befatal.