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Soon every child and adolescent in Fiji will have the chance to be protected against meningococcal C after a recent outbreak of the disease, with the Government of Fiji’s vaccination campaign set to launch on 14 May, supported by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
This country-wide mass vaccination campaign aims to vaccinate up to 325,000 children and adolescents against meningococcal C disease - the age group most at risk of getting the disease.
“The Ministry of Health and Medical Services is committed to the rollout of this mass vaccination campaign to protect every child and adolescent between one and 19 years in Fiji against meningococcal disease. We appreciate the support from all our partners to undertake this campaign, and encourage all parents and guardians to have their children immunized for the benefit of the entire community,” said Minister for Health in Fiji, Rosy Akbar.
In late March, Fiji declared an outbreak of meningococcal disease following an increase in cases. From 1 January to 22 April 2018, there has been 58 confirmed and suspected patients reported and tragically four lives have been lost to this deadly disease.
Children and adolescents in Fiji have been most affected by the disease. To date 100 per cent of patients have been 19 years of age or under, with the largest proportion of cases under 5 years of age. This is why the Ministry, with support from UNICEF and WHO, is aiming to vaccinate all children and adolescents in Fiji between the ages of one and 19 years.
“UNICEF is pleased to support the Government of Fiji in sourcing the necessary vaccines, which will help to reach every child in the country, no matter where they live, and ensure they are protected against this deadly disease,” said UNICEF Pacific Representative, Sheldon Yett. “We look forward to continuing to support the Ministry of Health in this vaccination campaign.”
Health workers will work to vaccinate children and adolescents across Fiji, with the campaign initially focusing on the most at risk groups. Vaccinations will be taking place in health centres, communities, schools and other education centres and the Ministry of Health and Medical Services advises the initial focus will be in Central Division and Ra subdivisions in the West and then continue throughout the country until all children receive their vaccinations.
“WHO is committed to supporting the Government of Fiji in its vaccination campaign,” said Dr Corinne Capuano, WHO Director of Division of Pacific Technical Support and Representative for the South Pacific.
“This campaign is critically important as the vaccine will not only protect Fiji’s most at risk age group, but also help to protect the broader community through what is known as ‘herd immunity.’ Vaccinating this age group will help to protect the broader community by reducing the number of people who may carry the disease without experiencing symptoms, which also helps reduce the risk of the bacteria being passed on to others who haven’t been vaccinated” emphasised Dr Capuano.
The Ministry of Health and Medical Services, with the support from the partners, will roll out the vaccination plan, including training of health teams to deliver the vaccines, as well as the cold chain – ensuring the vaccines arrive at the correct temperature to be effective protection against meningococcal disease.
Meningococcal disease is a life-threatening disease, which usually causes meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord) and/or septicaemia (blood poisoning). For older children and adults common symptoms include sudden fever, vomiting, headache, and stiff neck/backache. For babies, symptoms generally include fever, neck stiffness, irritability, drowsiness, vomiting, not feeding properly, or having a lack of muscle tone/floppy baby.
If detected early, most cases of meningococcal disease can be treated. This is why it is important that everyone knows the signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease and seek urgent medical advice at their nearest health facility if they suspect the disease.
People can also protect themselves from the disease by practicing good hygiene, including covering the mouth and nose with a tissue or handkerchief when coughing and sneezing; disposing of tissues in the bin after coughing or sneezing; and washing hands regularly with soap and water, or hand sanitizer.
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