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Eswatini intensifies polio preparedness plan 

By Phephile Motau

Eswatini has joined other countries in intensifying efforts to protect people from polio amid the re-emergence of the Wild polio Virus in Africa.

This is even though the country last recorded a polio case in 1989 and has successfully maintained a polio-free status ever since leading to it being declared polio-free in 2005. The African region was subsequently declared polio-free in 2020.

However, with the re-emergence of the circulation of the Wild polio Virus in Africa, the risk of reintroduction of the virus remains very high. Eswatini remains at risk of importing the wild poliovirus.

Following the finalisation of the National Polio Preparedness and Response Plan, the country went on to conduct a Polio Outbreak Simulation Exercise (POSE). This was through a two-day Tabletop Exercise (TTX) after several weeks of intense planning last month.

The purpose of the POSE was to test Eswatini’s operational readiness to respond to a polio outbreak. The activity also acted as a refresher on what to expect in the event of a polio outbreak, and what must be done to enable a coordinated and efficient response by the country team. A team of experts from WHO/AFRO consisting of Dr Diakite Epse Manouan, Dr Samuel Bawa, Dr Landoh Essoya, Dr Emmanuel Kayiira and Dr John Ogange facilitated the activity which was well attended by national stakeholders in line with the one health, the whole of government and society approach.

The POSE was commissioned by the Minister of Health, Senator Lizzie Nkosi who emphasised the need to strengthen Emergency Preparedness and Response (EPR) as revealed during the Covid-19 response. “The need for resilient health systems with the capacity to prevent, detect, respond to health threats and maintain continuity of essential health services can never be over-emphasised,” she said.

The acting WHO Representative in the Kingdom, Dr Geoffrey Bisoborwa sent gratitude on behalf of the organisation to His Excellency Prime Minister Mr Cleopas Dlamini and the entire government for the particular interest given to the Polio Eradication Initiative. This includes having robust Polio outbreak preparedness and response plan and organizing a Polio Outbreak Simulation exercise. 

The country scored 56.7 per cent overall performance, according to the WHO. Some of the gaps noted included procedures for submitting outbreak notification to WHO in line with IHR, unclear role definitions in the plans, as well as surveillance SOPs.

Nonetheless, there were positives, in that a structure is in place to respond to emergencies under National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA). The team also found that the structure of the Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) was adequate and strategies to communicate demonstrated.

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