|© UNICEF video|
|Marie Houkpatin holds her daughter Lucienne, a victim of polio in Benin, which has completed a new round of immunization as part of a synchronized West African campaign.|
By Gisèle Langue Menye
COTONOU, Benin, 5 March 2009 – About 2.7 million children under the age of five are to be vaccinated in Benin during two rounds of National Immunization Days (NIDs) this year. Benin, like several neighbouring countries, is witnessing a resurgence of wild poliovirus.
From 2003 to 2007, no polio cases were reported. But eight cases have already been confirmed in the past 12 months, and investigations are ongoing in a few suspicious cases. This is a worrying situation for the authorities here.
The Head of State, President Boni Yayi, officially launched the 2009 immunization campaign on 27 February in Cotonou, Benin’s main city, in the presence of all partners involved – namely, representatives of the World Health Organization, USAID, Rotary International, the European Union and UNICEF.
The campaign is part of a synchronized effort to eradicate polio in eight West African nations: Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Ghana, Togo and Nigeria. Hundreds of mothers brought their babies to be vaccinated at the launch event in Cotonou.
A UNICEF team involved went on to monitor vaccination activities in the field.
|© UNICEF video|
|Benin’s President, Boni Yayi, officially launched the first round of the 2009 immunization campaign on 27 February in Cotonou.|
In a farm in Egbe village, located two hours from Cotonou, the team met Lucrèce and Lucienne, 21-month-old twin baby girls. Lucrèce, who is not affected by polio, is energetic and full of life. Lucienne, who was hit by the disease four months ago, now has difficulty moving and walking.
“I came back very late from the market one day, and I found my daughter Lucienne sick with high fever,” said Marie Houkpatin, 34, the twins’ mother. “The next day, the fever persisted, and I then decided to bring her to St. Luc clinic at Pobè. The fever got down and we went back home.
“A few days later, she could no longer stand up. Her legs were weak, so I went back to the hospital. Polio was diagnosed and Lucienne has never recovered the use of her legs,” added Ms. Houkpatin.
“This is not fair,” said Andrien Hooto, Lucienne’s father. “We have six children and all of them have been vaccinated except the twins. My wife went to the hospital but no vaccines were available that day, and she came back home. Then she was involved in daily activities and forgot to bring the children back to be vaccinated.”
‘We protect our children’
During this first round of NIDs, which concluded on 2 March, nearly 17,000 volunteers fanned out across urban and rural areas. They went from door to door, and to schools, markets and places of worship, in order to vaccinate all the targeted children.
|© UNICEF video|
|Vaccinators work to reach remote areas in Benin, sometimes travelling by boat to lakeside villages.|
Fachina Waidi is a volunteer in Pobè who has participated in 14 immunization campaigns to date. As a member of the community, he knows how to speak to mothers, to give the two drops of polio vaccine to each child, and mark fingers and houses after children have been vaccinated.
“I am strongly committed to this very hard job. By doing this, we protect our children against polio,” he said proudly.
Unfortunately, resistance to immunization persists among some religious groups, and some people fear the polio vaccine’s side effects. Still, social mobilization has been a useful tool in ridding Benin of polio. The challenge for the partners in this year’s immunization rounds will be to continue providing the vaccines and supporting these communication activities.
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UNICEF's work on eradicating polio