At a glance: Liberia

Kicking polio out of Liberia

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Liberia/2005/Slavin
Three-month-old Surpris Seh, bottom left, was brought to the vaccination day by her mother, Miatta Tarweh, twenty-one, of Tubmanburg, Liberia.

By Patrick Slavin

TUBMANBURG, Liberia, 15 April 2005 – Peace has finally returned to this West African nation, and a vitally important peace dividend is reaching every corner of the county: the protection of all children from polio.

“I came for her, I came for her health,” said Miatta Tarweh, speaking of her three-month old daughter, Surpris, just before she was vaccinated against polio at the launch of Liberia’s second round of National Immunization Days (NIDs).

A massive nationwide vaccination campaign is underway in Liberia. Four rounds of NIDs are planned in the country this year and the goal is to reach every child under age five. UNICEF is working with thousands of Liberian healthcare workers, social mobilisers, and trained volunteers to reach the goal.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Liberia/2005/Slavin
During the launch of Liberia's second round of national vaccinations, three-month-old Surpris Seh, was inoculated against polio by Liberia's Minister of Youth and Sports, the Honourable Wheatonia Dixon-Barnes.

They also intend to provide children between the ages of 6-59 months with Vitamin A capsules. Vitamin A supplementation helps protect young children from blindness, measles, diarrhoeal dehydration, and acute respiratory infections.

Polio still grips Africa from coast-to-coast and the threat to children is increasing. After four years free from polio, two cases were confirmed in Ethiopia in January. Nigeria is already reporting numerous polio cases this year, with 32 to date. Guinea and Mali have both reported cases recently and the virus has now re-established itself in Mali.

To battle the crippling disease, UNICEF and its partners are working this year to immunize 100 million children in 23 African countries, including Liberia.

“As in February, when vaccinators reached more than 1 million Liberian children during the first round of NIDs, our partners went house-house between 8-12 April with the goal of reaching every child,” said UNICEF Liberia Representative Angela Kearney. The third and fourth rounds are scheduled for November and December, after the country’s six-month long rainy season.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Liberia/2005/Slavin
Wearing a traditional Liberian "fanti" dress, 18-year-old Kulah Thomas, brought her seven-month-old daughter Hawa to the launch of the Liberia's second round of NIDs in Tubmanburg.

“Besides going door-to-door, our vaccinators also go into markets, walk across agricultural fields to vaccinate kids living in rural areas, and travel by foot into the hardest to reach areas to protect every child from polio,” Kearney said. “We call on all of UNICEF’s partners in government, non-governmental organizations, and Liberian civil society to join our social mobilization efforts and kick polio of Liberia, forever. As our 2005 NIDs polio jingle says, see you at the door.”

 The city of Tubmanburg was nearly destroyed during Liberia’s 14-year civil war, and many of the town’s residents recently returned to their homes after years of surviving in refugee or internally displaced persons camps. More than a third of Liberia’s population of 3 million had to flee their home communities during an armed conflict that took the lives of an estimated 250,000 people. 

Aminate Bangura, 43, lived in the Perry internally displaced persons camp for more than two years and just came back home to Tubmanburg two months ago. Bangura said she welcomed the initiative because during the war, vaccination teams were blocked from completing routine vaccination coverage in the country. At the end of the immunization day, Bangura said with a soft smile, “Today was a normal day for so many countries. But we needed peace to bring this here. And peace is normal. Thank goodness for that.”


 

 

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