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Protecting every child against the menace of polio in Sudan

Shama Adel holds her son Mohamed as he receives polio drops.
© UNICEF/2011/Simon Ingram
Shama Adel holds her son Mohamed as he receives polio drops.

by Priyanka Khanna
 
Khartoum, 06 December 2011 – Dressed in sunshine yellow apron and sky-blue hijab or headscarf, Rahma Sid Ahmed pores over a roughly drawn pencil map which she uses to locate children she can vaccinate against the crippling polio virus.
 
Rahma is one in a team of three vaccinators who have come to the Al Shagara neighbourhood of south Khartoum, knocking on each door down dusty, meandering paths. A colleague is carrying a cold box containing polio vaccine vials that they dispense to every child below the age of five they can find. They are not strangers to the neighbourhood, but they take no chances and check every house for new-borns, visitors and people who have arrived from conflict zones around the country.
 
For them, Shama Adel and her son are a perfect example of what they call “a good find” as the two are new to the neighbourhood. As the team goes about their work, Shama paints a picture of stoic resilience as she recounts how her family fled a conflict-affected area in south-west Sudan a few months ago to come to the capital.

“My son is seven-months-old and he received some vaccine doses in Kadugli. But I am really thankful he got follow-up doses here, completing what was started,” she says, even as she asks about how she can get a new immunization card as the original was left behind in South Kordofan when they came in June.
 
“Everything is fine. We are living with in our relatives’ house. My husband is looking for a job,” she adds as she holds up her son -- Mohamed Adel -- to receive a dose of polio vaccine and his first-ever vitamin A supplement. Shama adds that they are happy to have found the vaccinators as she had come over to a friend’s place because her mother-in-law had gone out and they were locked out.

vaccinators going house-to-house to vaccinate children against polio
© UNICEF Sudan/2011/Simon Ingram
Rahma Sid Ahmed, centre, and other vaccinators going house-to-house to vaccinate children against polio

Mohamed is one of more than six million children below the age of five who were targeted to receive Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) in 12 out of Sudan’s 15 states during the fourth polio immunization campaign this year. The drive also included administration of vitamin A that helps prevent night-blindness and improves a child’s immunity against disease.

“For Sudan to remain free of polio cases, it is critical that we reach every child in each round,” says Dr. Zahir Mohamed Alamin“For Sudan to remain free of polio cases, it is critical that we reach every child in each round,” says Dr. Zahir Mohamed Alamin, who is supervising primary health clinics in a large part of Khartoum. “It is not easy especially with mass population movement. So keeping track of the increase and fall in the target population is the key challenge in Khartoum which is both a destination and a transit point,” he adds. In this part of the city the immediate challenge for Dr. Zahir and his team of 830 volunteers, supervisors and team leaders is ensuring the vaccination campaign covers all newly arrived internally displaced people.

Sudan last reported cases of polio in Khartoum and Red Sea in March 2009. The continuing circulation of polio virus in neighbouring countries makes further polio immunization rounds essential. UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Health and partners led by the World Health Organization (WHO) to support the global effort to eradicate polio. UNICEF supports procurement of vaccines for the campaigns as well as advocacy, planning, training, supervision and monitoring.
Sudan’s polio vaccination campaign gets financial contributions from a number of donors including the governments of Canada, France, Japan, Saudi Arabia, the United States (USAID and OFDA); the Centres for Disease Control and the Rotary International. Support from these partners helps ensure children like Mohamed get a healthier start in life.

 

 
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