By Moki Edwin Kindzeka for Voice of America
YAOUNDÉ, CAMEROON — Cameroon says two polio cases discovered in the capital, Yaoundé, three weeks ago are a consequence of people refusing to inoculate their children for fear of being infected by COVID-19. The central African state has redeployed health teams to all towns and villages to ask parents to vaccinate their children.
Cameroon says it has dispatched health workers to 360 hospitals as part of an awareness campaign against polio. Tetanye Ekoe, president of Cameroon’s National Polio Certification Commission, said the awareness teams will teach communities to observe hygiene and to intensify routine immunization, and epidemiological surveillance.
He said the discovery of two type 2 polio cases in Yaoundé three weeks ago should serve as a wake-up call for people who have turned their backs on polio vaccination. He said it is an illusion to think that the government is hiding behind vaccinations to harm its citizens. Ekoe said he is calling on all Cameroonians to inoculate their children and convince others to take their children to vaccination centers. He said the emergence of polio shows a weak collective immunity.
Ekoe said some polio cases may still be undetected because many parents have not been bringing their children to the hospitals out of fear of COVID-19 infection.
Cameroon was declared polio-free in 2015, but in 2019, the government of the central African state announced a resurgence on its northern border with Nigeria.
The new polio cases were reported in Cameroon in the middle of the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
This month, Cameroon’s Public Health Ministry reported that the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 had increased from 26,000 to 39,000 between January and February.
In December, the government said more than 240,000 children had not received polio vaccines since COVID-19 cases were first reported in Cameroon last March. The government said parents were refusing to take their children to the hospitals for inoculation because of fear of the coronavirus.
Ekoe said rumors last month that the government would secretly vaccinate all Cameroonians against COVID-19 further discouraged people who are scared of the vaccine from visiting hospitals.
Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute denied in a message Friday that Cameroon is vaccinating all its citizens who visit hospitals against COVID-19. Ngute said Cameroon is still negotiating to buy 1 million coronavirus vaccine doses, which will not be administered to people who do not want them.
"Once this vaccine become available, vaccination shall be voluntary,” he said. “I will like to note that although vaccination is voluntary and not compulsory, the government encourages all Cameroonians to be vaccinated when the time comes in order to acquire the immunity that will enable our community to protect itself against COVID-19 for a return to normalcy.”
On Aug. 25, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that wild poliovirus had been eradicated from Africa after four consecutive years without any reported cases and massive efforts to immunize children. The WHO said polio-free Africa was a historic moment, moving the world closer to achieving global polio eradication.
The WHO statement said only Pakistan and Afghanistan continue to see wild poliovirus transmission.
Polio affects mostly young children. Cameroon did not say if the new cases were detected in children or adults.