Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Kenya has urged other vaccine-using nations to join its initiative
An initiative launched by Kenya to identify a new form of immunisation to eliminate polio worldwide has been backed by world leaders.
It follows widespread devastation wrought by the disease in the country.
The new vaccine is intended to boost the immune system’s capacity to fight off the disease.
But some health experts and some social media users have questioned the prioritisation of Kenya in the process.
Since 2012, polio has been eradicated in Kenya, Somalia and Nigeria and the Africa region as a whole.
But other countries in the Middle East and Asia remain at risk, following major outbreaks of the virus in countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.
So far, Kenya has launched a national immunisation programme to contain a revived polio outbreak in the area.
The country has vaccination programmes in place for some 400 million children and early this year, the World Health Organization also joined Kenya in announcing a joint campaign to rid the world of polio by the year 2035.
“It’s a measure that I think will spur other countries to join the program,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The initiative includes a pledge by Kenya to commission a trial in the next two years of a vaccine that the health ministry believes will boost immunity in the country, in spite of the geographical isolation from its known polio-infested countries.
This comes as Kenyan health workers, using a free vaccination programme, have wiped out polio cases in the country since 2012.
The vaccine-using nations who are yet to join the initiative to end polio are Afghanistan, India, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria.
Other countries which have been polio free include Botswana, Brunei, Comoros, Iran, Indonesia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda and Yemen.
In addition, the three most populous countries – China, India and Nigeria – have never had a single case of polio.
In 2016, more than 270 cases of the disease were reported worldwide.
The immunity-boosting vaccine which was introduced in late 2017 by the health ministry in Kenya has proved to be highly effective in combating polio in Africa.
The vaccine is believed to work by disrupting the virus’ ability to replicate properly and then the human body’s immune system will mount a stronger defence against any future viruses.
Image copyright Charles Seth KMV Image caption Many expect the new vaccine to be highly effective
The vaccine is developed by pharmaceutical company Merck and administered at various steps of a childhood’s development.
Recent epidemics have impacted the immunity of families, meaning that the vaccine has to be deployed quickly to fend off polio.
“If we want to keep diseases at bay, we need to do the right thing and give all children a good birth through the vaccination programme,” said Dr Isaac Mwangi, director of the National Maternal and Child Health Programme of the Ministry of Health in Kenya.
Families with members in one particular area have the responsibility of ensuring that they don’t touch the vaccinated children.
Nonetheless, some people in the country are concerned about the haste by health authorities to vaccinate an entire country.
“We, as Kenyans, still need to ask questions,” said Grace Kabuga, a mother in Kibera, a poor slum community.
“Why are we protecting everybody but we do not seem to care about our children?”
However, the government has stood by its drive.
Photo: Caroline Gepner/Mati/Getty Images Image caption Michel Sidibé said in February that the disease has been wiped out in all countries except Afghanistan and Pakistan
“This is a call for all countries to join together, to scale up their efforts to eradicate the disease,” said the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Dr Wazi Mwaniki, a former African Union (AU) chairperson.
As part of the vaccination drive, 10,000 children were given a single dose of the vaccine in Kamiti Maximum Security Prison earlier this month.
The decision to announce the milestone is being made just two weeks after Mwaniki presented a timeline for the end of polio in 2030.