|© UNICEF Video|
|Vaccinators on the Abi Lagoon south east Cote d'Ivoire, stop a passing boat to administer Oral Polio Vaccine to infants.|
By Sarah Crowe
ABIDJAN, Côte d’Ivoire, 12 April 2005 – On a vast lagoon outside this capital city, once known as the Paris of Africa, two wooden boats packed with people meet for a few moments – just long enough for several babies to be passed from one boat to the other.
Young women in one of the boats, clad in orange life jackets, drop some liquid into each small mouth.
The babies’ mothers, in the other boat, are very happy. Their infants have just been vaccinated against polio – a small gesture for good, one of the many millions in a massive anti-polio campaign to make sure every child is immunized.
In Côte d’Ivoire alone, a country in the throes of a major political crisis, 27,000 vaccinators fanned out to reach more than five million children under five years of age in the most recent round of the polio campaign.
“In 2003 we had no cases of polio in the country, but last year we had 17 confirmed cases. We weren’t able to stop the virus from coming back into the country because of the conflict, and these were all imported cases,” said Dr. Jeremie Ipo, District Health Director in Adiake, Côte d’Ivoire.
|© UNICEF Video|
|A child receives Oral Polio Vaccine on board a boat.|
The polio outbreak has put all of Côte d’Ivoire’s neighbours at risk. On the border with Ghana, formed by the Tano River which divides the two countries, volunteers check and immunize a steady stream of children in sweltering heat and humidity. Ghana has been polio-free for just over a year. Even though the country has maintained a solid routine immunization system, it too is under threat. The Aowin people live in both Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, often crossing the border.
“These are the same people. They speak the same language, they intermarry, some take breakfast there and come back here to sleep,” said Dr. Tanimola Akanda, a WHO consultant, discussing the border with Ghana and how it affects the polio campaign. “This makes a cross-frontier campaign essential. But the strategy to eradicate polio is not difficult. Of the volunteers we are using for this exercise, 90 per cent of them are not health workers. You need simple training to just show how to drop the vaccines – very cost effective.”
The campaigns in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana are part of a massive coast-to-coast immunization drive across 23 African nations. During the first round of these campaigns in February this year, around 90 million children were reached. This round of house-to-house campaigns hopes to reach 100 million children. There are several more rounds scheduled throughout the year.
In terms of immunization, Côte d’Ivoire was once a model state in a politically unstable region. Before the political crisis and attempted coup which erupted in September 2002, some areas in the country had up to 90 per cent coverage of full and routine immunization. But with the flight of health workers, millions of children were neglected and health systems all but collapsed.
The European Union has supported UNICEF in strengthening the health infrastructure, particularly in the areas most hit by the political turmoil. The polio campaign is a vital part of getting fractured health systems back in place and boosting child survival rates.
9-10 April 2005:
UNICEF correspondent Sarah Crowe reports on the work of vaccination teams in Cote d'Ivoire.