First large-scale campaign in DRC using innovative polio vaccine


Brazzaville/Kinshasa – The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) today launches its first major immunization campaign using the novel polio vaccine type 2 (nOPV2), to protect children against the devastating consequences of the virus.

Although used previously in the country to halt outbreaks of circulating variant poliovirus type 2 (cVDPV2), this is the first time the DRC will conduct such a large-scale vaccination campaign. Starting on 1 June 2023, more than 17 million children under the age of five are being targeted in a three-day drive covering 20 provinces.

With more than 20 million nOPV2 doses already available in the DRC, the campaign sets the stage for an upcoming nationwide undertaking scheduled for July 2023. Previous rounds in 2022 and earlier this year were limited to a maximum of two provinces each.

Over 21 countries in the World Health Organization (WHO) African region have deployed more than 600 million doses of the vaccine since it was first rolled out in March 2021. More than 80% of these countries have seen no further transmission of circulating variant poliovirus type 2 after two high-quality immunization rounds. This is the most prevalent form of polio, and African countries are leading the way in deploying this new tool to protect children.

The DRC accounts for almost half the total number of cases of circulating variant poliovirus type 2 in the region, with 407 cases reported between January 2022 and the end of May 2023. As a result, the country’s Ministry of Health, Hygiene and Prevention has prioritized reaching under-immunized communities, with support from WHO. Additional efforts will be implemented to strengthen engagement with local leaders and influencers to build trust and acceptance of the vaccine.

Interrupting transmission of wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1), and ending outbreaks of circulating variant poliovirus, are key priorities for WHO’s Regional Office for Africa. Polio technical experts are working closely with national health authorities to enhance country-level capacities, which aligns with the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) Strategy 2022–2026. This centres around the integration of polio activities into other essential health programmes in affected countries as an opportunity to reduce the number of zero-dose children.

WHO’s Polio Eradication Programme in the African region has established geographic information systems and other innovative tools that enable teams to quickly map areas in which health facilities are located, to locate houses in which eligible children live (especially zero-dose children), and to track the movements of vaccination teams during polio outbreak response campaigns to reach every last child, even in the most remote locations.

“These solutions are now also being used beyond polio, to support other health interventions in the WHO African region,” says Kebba Touray, head of the AFRO Geographic Information System Centre.

Dr Lusamba Kabamba, GPEI coordinator in the DRC, confirms that monitoring pre-campaign activities using new technologies constitutes a very valuable advantage.

“The Open Data Kit tool is a simple mobile application that provides software and standards for field electronic data collection. Through a simple editable form, independent monitors, vaccinators, supervisors and health workers can plan as well as evaluate the quality of a vaccination campaign by logging data and key observations in the forms.”

Kabamba also notes that teams on the ground will be able to share near real-time geolocation points (marked using the ODK tool) where vaccination posts can be set up, how many health centres have been visited, the quality of markings on houses visited by vaccinators, as well as the quality of finger markers used to identify children who have been vaccinated. The tool also enables teams to locate  children who have missed their vaccination.

Note to editors:

Outbreaks occur in areas with low population immunity, and in the DRC there are persistent challenges to reaching all children with vaccines: conflict and insecurity disrupt services and complicate the difficult jobs of health workers, while vaccine refusals continue due to misinformation and community fatigue exacerbated by experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. These challenges allow transmission and contribute to continued outbreaks of variant poliovirus in under- or unimmunized communities.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is a public-private partnership led by national governments with six core partners – World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Its goal is to eradicate polio worldwide.

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