|© UNICEF Burkina Faso/2009/ Nduita|
|A UNICEF-supported mobile team at the end of their immunization assignment in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.|
By Jean-Jacques Nduita
OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso, 15 April 2009 – Too young to understand the importance of receiving her oral polio vaccination, three-year-old Mouniratou Ouzeita needed some encouragement before she allowed the immunization worker to administer the life-saving drops. But after it was all over, she happily accepted a round of applause.
Like some children in this peripheral district of Ouagadougou, Mouniratou had not been vaccinated during the first round of immunizations. So at the end of March – on the last day of the second round of the national immunization days against polio – the workers and volunteers had cast their nets as wide as possible in an effort to reach every child.
Encouraging signs, IFRC appeal
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has launched an emergency appeal to respond to polio outbreaks across Africa, including in Burkina Faso. The appeal will fund immunization activities conducted by national Ministries of Health with support from the Global Polio Eradication Initiative – spearheaded by UNICEF, the World Health Organization, Rotary International and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Effective outreach strategies are crucial to wiping out the crippling disease of polio in Burkina Faso. To that end, mobile immunization teams made sure to be easily identifiable by wearing white, sleeveless bibs that read ‘kick polio out of Burkina Faso’. They also planned their outreach efforts to ensure that every child could be reached.
“Immunizers not only go from courtyard to courtyard, but also go to public places to launch calls to parents. This aggressive approach is already yielding impressive results,” said Programme Immunization Officer Saidou Zeba.
The statistics here are promising: 4,727 children aged five and under have been immunized against polio, exceeding the original target of 4,661.
Unlike the first round of immunizations, this area saw no new reported cases of wild polio virus. This is an encouraging sign for Ouagadougou, which had four out of the six confirmed cases of polio in Burkina Faso this year.
The First Lady of Burkina Faso, Chantal Compaore, reiterated the need to keep up the vaccination efforts during the launch ceremony of the synchronized national immunization days conducted last month in this and other West African nations last month.
"I encourage administrative, religious and health authorities – and parents of children under five – to work towards ensuring that all our children are immunized. Let us do it for our children; let us do it to ensure a bright future for Burkina Faso,” she said.
The First Lady’s words underscored the government’s commitment to working with UNICEF, the World Health Organization and Rotary International to eradicate polio.
“We hope that in joining our forces, we will be able to wipe out polio from West Africa,” said Health Minister of Burkina Faso Seydou Bouda.
In support of the government’s efforts, UNICEF has been providing the routine vaccines and accessories, as well as the cold chain equipment necessary for transporting the vaccines, and ensuring that this equipment remains functional.
But the last step in the process, convincing the parents or guardians of vulnerable children to allow the immunization to be administered, is often the most difficult. Religious beliefs, local customs and a general lack of knowledge about diseases and medicines can hamper efforts to immunize children.
But the patience and perseverance of immunization workers is showing no signs of diminishing and UNICEF will continue to support their efforts for as long as is necessary.
“All Burkina Faso’s children should be immunized to avoid their falling prey to preventable diseases like polio. This is our strong commitment,” said UNICEF Representative in Burkina Faso Hervé Périès.
Red Cross launches emergency appeal for polio outbreak response in Africa
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