Sabah to review mass polio immunisation programme following two new cases

Julia Chan
Dr Christina Rundi said it was time for authorities to review its mass immunisation programme. She is seen here with Datuk Frankie Poon during a press conference January 10, 2020. — Picture by Julia Chan

KOTA KINABALU, Jan 10 — Sabah Health Department director Dr Christina Rundi today said the state health authorities will have to review its mass polio immunisation programme to possibly include children above the age of five.

She said a review has now become necessary after two new polio cases emerged in November and December involving two boys aged eight and 11 in Sandakan and Kinabatangan.

“When we first made the policy to provide immunisation for all children aged five years and below, it was based on the first case in Tuaran involving a five-year-old boy. But now that we have these two, we have to address that and relook at the policy.

“So we have to go back and calculate, from zero to five again, or should we go up to seven, 12 or 15 ... these are policy decisions we have to make, taking into consideration risk assessment and our resources,” she said during a press conference here today.

Polio, a viral and crippling disease affecting largely children, returned to Malaysia after 17 years in December last year, affecting a five-year-old Malaysian boy in Tuaran who is currently still being treated.

Earlier today, Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah announced two new cases of acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) in Sabah, bringing the total to three in the country.

Faecal and genetic tests conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) Polio Regional Reference Laboratory in Australia showed a genetic relation to the same viral strain that broke out in the Philippines last year.

Dr Rundi said that based on their investigation, the children had not travelled outside of the country and therefore it was likely the children had contracted the virus from carriers who were not showing symptoms and could therefore not be traced.

She said that the mass immunisation programme since the Tuaran case in December last year had covered areas in Tuaran and Kota Kinabalu so far, affecting some 7,000 children, both foreign and locals.

“The process is ongoing and it looks like we will be reaching almost half a million children at the end of it.

Meanwhile, Health and People’s Wellbeing Minister Datuk Frankie Poon said the government will heighten its screening process which had tracked and traced the two new polio cases.

It also said it would continue efforts to ensure foreign elements do not enter the state easily.

Meanwhile, Poon also denied a notice circulating that a three-year-old child had died due to H1N1 influenza.

While confirming that a child indeed passed away, he said authorities have yet to establish the cause of death.

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