|© UNICEF Niger/Cojocaru/2009|
|Tillabery health district Immunization Coordinator Ali Boureima travels by boat on the Niger River to bring oral polio vaccine to island villages.|
By Violeta Cojocaru
GARBEY KOUROU, Niger, 6 March 2009 – On the eve of an eight-country polio vaccination campaign held over the past week in West Africa, Ali Boureima, the immunization coordinator for Tillabery health district in Niger, distributed the last batch of oral polio vaccines for nine villages situated on islands in the Niger River.
To reach these remote communities, where families consider the river and its foods a gift from God, Mr. Boureima had to hire a pirogue. He knows that the river also serves as a barrier to modern medicine, but the vaccines are critical. There were 12 reported cases of polio in Niger in 2008 – one of them in Tillabery district. Three cases have been reported in the country so far this year.
Thirty minutes after setting off from the district centre, Mr. Boureima reached his destination: Sawani village. He handed over a cooler of vaccines and a canister of gas to power the refrigerator where the drugs would be stored until the following day.
Aiming for eradication
The recent immunization drive held here and throughout the region was part of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, a partnership spearheaded by the World Health Organization, Rotary International, the US Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, and UNICEF.
On the first day of the campaign, 27 February, district officials gathered for a launch ceremony in the village of Garbey Kourou, on the mainland. Last year, five families in this village refused vaccination.
A representative of the Governor, Lamin Abdumaye, reminded villagers of other illnesses that have been eradicated. “We had smallpox, we had sleeping sickness. And how were they all eradicated?” he asked. “They were eradicated thanks to the coordinated efforts of the health sector and to preventive measures.”
Role of fathers
Other officials, and religious and traditional leaders, including Mahamadou Djinge, were also on hand to promote the benefits of the vaccination.
Mr. Djinge’s constituency is spread across 26 villages, all situated on islands. He spoke to both men and women, but stressed the role of fathers, who usually make the decision to allow – or not allow – their children to be vaccinated.
“The association of traditional leaders and UNICEF have concerted their efforts to support the vaccination campaign by raising the awareness of villagers on its importance,” he said.
A total of 226 vaccination teams conducted the campaign in Tillabery district, going from house to house to distribute the life-saving drops.
Balkissa, 26, was happy to have her 11-month-old daughter vaccinated. Balkissa went to school and knows what polio is. The child’s grandmother says she has seen many people who were disabled by the disease, and she encourages all mothers to participate.
|© UNICEF Niger/Cojocaru/2009|
|The Mayor of Garbey Kourou village in Niger’s Tillabery district administers polio vaccine to a young child, one of 66,000 children targeted for vaccination in the district.|
On another island village, Sayani – site of the only new polio case detected in the area in the past three years – Badamasi, 2, plays quietly with his family. His parents missed the last vaccination campaign, apparently because they thought the risk was low. Badamasi contracted the disease last year, and his parents are devastated.
‘I want them healthy’
Now the boy’s father speaks out about vaccination and the risk of disability, encouraging the village’s other families to be pro-active.
Indeed, the families of Sayani approached the vaccination team on the street, anxious to have their children immunized. “We will vaccinate children every time when the vaccinators come,” one woman declared. Her husband, a religious teacher added: “I let my wife vaccinate the children even when I am not at home. I want them healthy.”
More then 66,000 children aged five and younger were targeted for this first round of vaccination in Tillabery district, out of a total of 4.2 million across Niger. An estimated 53 million children are being immunized in the course of the synchronized regional campaign, which concludes with a second round of immunization during the last week of March.