USAID Mikolo Project Joins Polio Emergency Outbreak Response in Madagascar

{Photo credit: Sara Holtz}Photo credit: Sara Holtz

A recent outbreak has prompted the USAID Mikolo Project, led by MSH, to actively engage in the global fight to eradicate polio in Madagascar. Eight new cases of acute flaccid paralysis, the most common sign of acute polio, were reported between April and May of this year. The new cases are geographically spread throughout the country and are genetically linked to a case detected in September 2014, which indicates that the virus has continued to circulate for some time.

Despite subnational and national vaccination events held last December and in April, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 25 percent of children are currently not vaccinated or are under-vaccinated in Madagascar. This means the country falls short of the vaccination coverage rate of around 85 percent needed to prevent further transmission of the disease and that an intensified response is required.

As part of this response, more than 5,500 community health volunteers, called agents communautaires, participated in a national polio campaign in August. These volunteers, trained and supported by USAID Mikolo and local partners, organized health communication events in their fokotany (villages) to encourage caregivers to bring all children aged five and under to be vaccinated against polio. USAID Mikolo community health volunteers also joined the vaccination teams to drop polio vaccine into children’s mouths, mark their fingernails to indicate they were vaccinated, and update their health booklets.

The polio campaign will continue from September 14-18 and October 12-16. However, the next rounds will target all children aged 15 and under, not just 0 to five year olds.

“We have some cases of polio in 14 year olds. These kids were not vaccinated when they were zero to five,” explains Dr. Herlyne Ramihantaniarivo, Directeur Général de la Santé. “These are kids that live far away from health centers in very remote areas. No one wants to go there; they have been excluded. And their parents may not have been aware of this disease.”

Since 2013, USAID Mikolo has worked to increase the use of community-based primary health care services, including immunization, and the adoption of healthy behaviors among women, children, and infants in six of Madagascar’s 22 regions.