By ALI G. MACABALANG
COTABATO CITY – In time with their hectic strides in the COVID-19 pandemic, health workers in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) also give impetus to immunizing constituent-children from the polio disease.
The BARMM’s Ministry of Health (MoH) launched on July 20 until August 2 its regional version of the ‘Sabayang Patak Kontra Polio’ to immunize at least 839,677 children in the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi, the Bangsamoro government’s Bureau of Public Information (BPI) said in a statement.
Polio or poliomyelitis is highly infectious, affects the spinal cord, causes muscle weakness and paralysis, and can be fatal. It is caused by the poliovirus that spreads from person to person. It is incurable but can be prevented through vaccination, according to health authorities.
The MoH is bidding to “ensure that no child in the BARMM will be left unvaccinated against poliovirus,” the BPI cited Health Minister Dr. Saffrullah M. Dipatuan as saying at the kickoff ceremony here on July 20.
It seeks to cover at least 839,677 children across BARMM in the anti-polio drive until Aug. 2, the BPI said.
The national government through the Department of Health (DoH) revitalized the anti-polio immunization drive following the death of a three-year old girl in Lanao del Sur on Sept. 14, 2019 in what was deemed as the first polio case since its eradication in the country 19 years ago.
But the revitalized immunization activities, which saw civilian, police and military volunteers conducting vaccinations even on checkpoints, had been suspended last March due to the sudden emergence of the COVID-19 virus in many nations across the globe.
In the revival launch of the anti-polio immunization, community-based public health practitioners will strictly observe health and safety measures prescribed in the global COVID-19 campaign protocols, BARMM officials said.
While wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) suits, vaccinators would also observe a ‘No Touch Approach’ wherein only the parent or caretaker can hold the child’s face/mouth and finger, Dr. Dipatuan said.
He said the MoH has assigned a number of anti-polio vaccinators apart from health workers already on duty in the COVID-19 wards or quarantine centers in the region.
The vaccinators were provided proper orientation on Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) alongside PPEs and alcohol-based hand rubs for the conduct of the revived anti-polio campaign, Dr. Dipatuan said.
“We are doing this campaign for the sake of our children in BARMM, we cannot allow them to be exposed to many health risks while facing health crisis,” Dipatuan was quoted as saying at the kickoff ceremony.
At the ceremony, BARMM Chief Minister Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim urged the regional populace to cooperate in the conduct of the renewed program.
“Inaanyayahan po namin ang lahat na makiisa sa programa na inihanda laban sa polio. We assure that the region’s overall health care is protected and competent,” Ebrahim said in a message read for him by his Assistant Executive Secretary Abdullah “Dong” Cusain.
World Health Organization (WHO) representative in the Philippines, Dr. Rabindra Abeyasing, committed support for the campaign via video message during the ceremony.
“Polio remains a key priority area of WHO. We are fully committed to seeing the control of outbreak in the Philippines. We urge our partners especially the ministries to go together and respond to the outbreak,” Abeyasinghe said.
UNICEF-Mindanao Chief Andrew Morris, for his part, said: “We are here to support the ministry (MOH) through social mobilization; checking the municipalities if the facilities are ready.”
“We will look for coverage and missed (unvaccinated) children and inform the health units. It’s a very large support from UNICEF because of the seriousness of the issue. We’re here to help the ministry achieve success,” he added.
The ceremony was also attended by Cabinet Secretary Asnin Pendatun, and representatives from the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), World Health Officer Julie Villadolid, Rotary Club of Cotabato City South President Sadic Batua, members of the Bangsamoro IATF on Covid-19, representatives from Mindanao Humanitarian Team, and other stakeholders. (AGM)