Malaysia launches polio immunisation drive in Sabah after first case in nearly three decades

A child receives a polio vaccine in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, on Oct 14, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

KOTA KINABALU (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysia's Sabah state has started a massive polio immunisation programme, even as health officers continue to try and identify the source of the poliovirus contracted by a three-month-old baby in Tuaran district on Dec 8.

In describing the threat as "serious", state Health and People's Wellbeing Minister Frankie Poon said it was necessary to immunise children below five.

The Tuaran case was Malaysia's first polio case in nearly three decades.

The news broke after the Philippines, north of Sabah, in September reported its first cases of polio since 1993.

Malaysia's health ministry had said then that the child in Sabah was infected with a polio strain that shared genetic links with the virus detected in the Philippines.

Datuk Poon said on Friday (Dec 27): "It is important for the communities to ensure that their children below the age of five receive the oral immunisation or a booster to ensure that the highly contagious virus does not spread."

But he said that so far, the case in Tuaran was the only one detected in Sabah by the health authorities, which are conducting frequent checks in the eastern Malaysian state.

"There has been no new polio cases as various measures are being taken to check any possible spread of the virus, " he said when met after launching the polio immunisation programme in Tuaran.

Mr Poon commended the commitment of the health officials working through the year-end holidays and said that among the measures being taken was to identify cases of children below 15 years suffering from paralytic illnesses such as acute flaccid paralysis or AFP.

A total of 2,245 children were checked and none of them showed any signs of AFP.

Mr Poon also said that investigations on the source of the poliovirus detected in Tuaran were underway and this included taking stool samples from 20 people, who were in close contact with the baby.

"The samples have been sent to the laboratory and we are still waiting for the results, " he said, adding that three samples from the area around the baby's home had been taken for analysis.

He said the infected child was still on a respirator at the hospital here.

The state minister said there was no cure for polio and that it was important for children below five to receive the oral immunisation.

"The poliovirus spread could be checked if at least 95 per cent of the children were immunised, " he said, adding that the launch of the immunisation programme was also to create awareness to immunise children and the importance of hygienic practices among target groups.

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