Kenya, 5 September 2013: Efforts to contain polio outbreak intensify around Kenyan refugee camp
By Kun Li
As the polio outbreak in East Africa continues to spread, the urgency of vaccination campaigns is greater than ever.
DADAAB, Kenya, 5 September 2013 – Sitting comfortably in her mother’s lap, 7-month-old Fatuma is playful and content. Her eyes are bright and curious, studying each visitor who enters the room. But her legs appear unusual – they have not moved a bit, and her tiny feet are dropping almost 90 degrees to each side.
“One night she started having a fever, and also vomiting,” recalls Mad Hassan, Fatuma’s mother. “We went to the health post, and the doctors took her to the main hospital in Hagadera. Then she was paralyzed. They checked the stool and told us it was polio.”
Learn more about Fatuma's story, and about the immunization campaigns underway to try to reach children in Kenya who have not been immunized against polio. Watch in RealPlayer
Fatuma’s was the first confirmed case in a polio outbreak that has gripped Kenya since May. The family lives among other Somalis in the refugee camp in Dadaab, northeastern Kenya, where most of the 13 confirmed cases have originated.
“I want treatment for my daughter,” says the worried mother. “And we need better living conditions and better water and sanitation.”
Containing the outbreak
Although Kenya and its neighbours have been considered polio-free for the past several years, that status no longer applies, with polio cases first reported this year in Somalia, then in Kenya, and lately in Ethiopia. There are now more than 140 confirmed cases in the three countries, and the outbreak has affected adults as well as children. Among them is 19-year-old Awil, another resident of the Dadaab camp, who was never immunized against the disease.
To contain the outbreak in Kenya, immunization campaigns have been conducted around the country, and more are planned for the coming months. Efforts have been intensified in and around Dadaab – everyone here, child or adult, is set to be vaccinated. The driving concern is that there could be others like Awil who have not been vaccinated, which can compromise the immunity of the entire population.
Wardah Rashid, a vaccination team supervisor, explains that their initial efforts encountered some challenges, including resistance from the community. “Some people think that they are too old to be vaccinated,” she says. “But with more rounds being conducted, and also sensitization by our teams and the radio, Dadaab FM, now we rarely see this kind of resistance anymore.”
The right information
The campaign’s success relies on many factors – first and foremost the commitment of health workers like Wardah and her colleagues, who go from door to door to vaccinate children and make sure not a single one is missed. It also depends on support from partners, as well as the community’s backing and participation. For this reason, Imam Abdinoor Mohamed came to the studio of Dadaab FM to join experts from the World Health Organization and the UN Refugee Agency to discuss polio and answer listeners’ questions during a live radio broadcast.
“As a religious leader, it is my responsibility to tell the community what is right and what is wrong,” says the imam. “So it is my responsibility to give them the right information about polio and how to fight the disease through immunization.”
Success in Kenya alone is far from enough. The outbreak is spreading quickly and putting nearby countries – Djibouti, Eritrea, South Sudan, Uganda and Yemen – all at serious risk.
Yet more challenging is the region’s high number of children who have not been immunized during years of conflict and insecurity, particularly in Somalia. Only when these children are reached and protected with life-saving vaccines will the region have a chance again at being polio-free.
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