|© UNICEF Nigeria/2006/ JAULMES|
|Children are proud to wear sun visors distributed during the polio immunization drive in Lagos, Nigeria. The visors read, 'I am covered by the mighty power of polio vaccine'.|
By Christine Jaulmes
LAGOS, Nigeria, 21 March, 2006 – Nigeria is the last polio-endemic country in Africa, with the world’s highest number of reported cases in 2005. Now the National Programme on Immunization (NPI), supported by UNICEF, the World Health Organization and other partners, aims to immunize every child in Nigeria against polio.
The country’s second round of National Immunization Days concluded last week, using a unique approach to vaccinate more than 40 million children under the age of five. Teams of workers went directly to homes, stood in market stalls and even boarded boats to rural islands in order to ensure that no child would be missed.
‘Has your child been immunized?’
In Lagos, the largest city in sub-Saharan Africa, volunteers dodged motorbike taxis called ‘okadas’ as they made their way through bustling streets with the life-saving oral polio vaccine.
In the densely crowded Oshodi Market, vaccinators recognizable by their green aprons had to struggle past the market stalls to reach children sitting with their mothers or being carried in slings on their mothers’ backs.
The question to parents was always the same: “Has your child been immunized today?” If the answer was no, vaccine would be administered without delay. NPI distributed 45 million doses to 138,200 workers throughout the country. On a single day in the port area of Apapa alone, 14,955 children were immunized.
“I can assure you that the Government of Nigeria, UNICEF and partners are more committed than ever to eradicate polio,” said UNICEF Nigeria Representative Ayalew Abai. “We are looking at combining innovative and attractive interventions to reach every single child in the coming rounds.”
Visible signs of vaccination
Beneath a busy bridge in Lagos, workers boarded wooden boats and set off for the rural islands nearby. The cases they used to carry the all-important vaccines displayed the encouraging phrase, ‘Kick Polio Out of Nigeria’.
|© UNICEF Nigeria/2006/ JAULMES|
|Vaccination teams go by boat to coastal areas near the port city of Apapa, bringing polio vaccine to children living on islands in Lagos, Nigeria.|
Immediately upon disembarking on the first island, the vaccinators went to work. Two supervisors directed their teams according to a hand-drawn map showing local paths. They visited each house on the island, asking parents to bring their children outside for immunization and checking on the number of children under five in the home.
The vaccinators then marked houses with chalk and dabbed children’s fingernails with violet-coloured ink – two visible signs that a family has been visited and the polio vaccine administered.
The health educator for the Local Government Area (LGA) gave out sun visors produced by the LGA Social Mobilization Committee. The children smiled proudly as they donned the visors, which read, ‘I am covered by the mighty power of polio vaccine’.
Using progressive techniques
“We are encouraging such creative initiatives to engage children and their families to fully take part in the exercise,” explained UNICEF Social Mobilization Officer Caroline Akosile. “Every round is a new challenge. We have observed that there is some fatigue among the population. People are asking why we have so many rounds for polio immunization. Through various channels, including involvement of traditional and religious leaders and market women’s associations, we make sure that communities understand the importance of immunization”
With 801 cases of the virus reported in 2005, Nigeria had the highest polio rate of any nation last year. The Government of Nigeria, UNICEF and other partners are committed to using progressive techniques to reach every child.
To that end, health educators, UNICEF staff and volunteers here are tirelessly repeating the same message: Polio is still in Nigeria and can paralyze your child. It is critical that Nigeria eradicate polio in order for the world to become polio-free.
Kyria Abrahams contributed to this story from New York.