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South Sudan, 7 June 2012: Increasing demand for vaccination services

© UNICEF Video
A child is given oral polio vaccination at a local health center in South Sudan.

By Mercy Kolok

JUBA, South Sudan, 7 June 2012 – In the past, parents would wait for vaccinators to visit their homes on National Immunization Days (NIDs). But this recent round of immunizations saw throngs of mothers arrive at the Munuki Primary Health Care Center to have their children vaccinated – an indication that parents are increasingly motivated to protect their children from deadly but preventable diseases like polio.

UNICEF correspondent Shalin Popat reports on efforts to increase community awareness of the importance of immunization to child health and survival in South Sudan. Watch in RealPlayer

“I have heard of the dangers of polio, that it can cripple or even kill a child,” said Fauzia Abdalla. “I do not want any of my children to get polio. That is why I decided to rush them to the health centre instead of waiting for the vaccinators to reach my home.”

“Polio vaccination is not an option in my homestead – it is compulsory,” said 80-year-old Tabitha Meling. “My son got polio when he was 2 years old, so over the years I have ensured that all my children and grandchildren have their children vaccinated. I don’t want polio to infect anyone in my family again. The suffering I got with my son was more than enough.”

© UNICEF Video
In preparation for South Sudan's recent immunization campaign, radio spots were aired, raising awareness about the campaign and about the dangers of polio.

Mobilizing caregivers

Several weeks before the start of each NIDs, the Ministry of Health, UNICEF and other partners work hand-in-hand to ensure that communities are aware of the dangers of polio and that vaccines are in place for distribution to villages around the country.

Social mobilization is another key to reaching every child. With support from UNICEF, the Ministry of Health engages in different forms of social mobilization activities, including community sensitization meetings, radio talk shows, radio spots, use of Information Education and Communication (IEC) materials and public service announcements.

“Social mobilization is a crucial part of the campaign because it not only educates and informs parents about polio and the campaign in general, but it also gives them time to prepare to participate in the campaign by making their children available,” said Daniel Christopher Yakobo, Chief of Social Mobilization in Ministry of Health, Central Equatoria State.

South Sudan nearly polio-free

South Sudan faces a variety of challenges that impair access to health care and immunization. Many families lack transportation to health centres or contend with difficult terrain and harsh weather conditions. And many communities have inadequate health facilities with too few or insufficiently trained health workers.

Yet South Sudan is making great strides towards the eradication of polio: the country has been polio free for 35 months.

"South Sudan is a place where children face so many risks, but thanks to the efforts of community volunteers, the government and the support we have received from donors like Japan, Canada, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, we haven't had a single case of polio in nearly three years,” said Dr. Yasmin Ali Haque, UNICEF Representative in South Sudan.

“We have to remain vigilant and make sure those 3.5 million children under 5 years are vaccinated against polio twice a year till we are absolutely sure that polio is no longer a threat to the children of South Sudan," she added.

 

 
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