Indonesia starts immunising 6.4 million children after 16 cases of polio

JAKARTA: Mothers carrying babies and dragging toddlers by the hand flocked to clinics yesterday as Indonesia launched a massive polio vaccination drive to halt an outbreak of the disease that has crippled 16 children. 

Officials want to immunise 6.4 million children across the provinces of West Java and Banten, as well as Jakarta, during the free but compulsory campaign for children under five. 

Indonesia was polio-free for a decade until this month, when cases emerged near the West Java city of Sukabumi. All 16 cases have come from the area, 100km south of Jakarta. 

VIRAL PROTECTION: A health worker administering the polio vaccine to an infant at a clinic in Jakarta yesterday. - AFPpic

“This is important because I don't want my child to be disabled like the ones I see on television,” said Nasah, 21, holding her three-year-old son Septyan. 

She was among hundreds of mothers carrying children on their hips at a vaccination post in Jakarta's Kebon Jeruk district. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO), which is campaigning to halt the global spread of polio by year-end, has battled setbacks in the last two years since Nigeria's northern state of Kano banned immunisation out of fear it could cause sterility or spread HIV/AIDS. Vaccinations resumed after the 10-month ban. 

But the virus spread across Africa, crossed the Red Sea into Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and reached Indonesia – infecting 16 previously polio-free countries in all. 

The atmosphere was festive in Jakarta as bands played loud music on a stage and screaming children ran around makeshift tented clinics. Snacks were handed out after health workers administered the vaccine drops to children's mouths. 

Some 40,000 health workers and volunteers have set up clinics across the three regions in one of the country's biggest immunisation drives in years. 

The WHO acting chief in Indonesia Frits Reijsenbach de Haan said the gradual increase in polio cases in Indonesia underscored the importance of the vaccination campaign. 

“It means the infection is still around and you can see there are now 16. Maybe there will be no more cases, maybe there will be,” he said. 

Abdul Chalik Masulili, head of Jakarta's health agency, said parents could be fined up to 1 million rupiah (RM399) if they refused to have their children immunised, even if they had had the vaccine before, the Jakarta Post reported. 

Health workers are marking the fingernails of children with ink to show they have had the drops. 

The viral disease of the brain and spinal cord, which mainly affects children under five, can cause irreversible paralysis in a matter of hours. Some cases are fatal. – Reuters  

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