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Guinea: a national campaign to stop polio from spreading

© UNICEF Video

Conakry, Guinee, 17 mars 2010 - Yeninka is just 5 years old, but her life just took a turn. This little girl was born in a poor fisherman’s neighborhood in the suburbs of Conakry.

She was healthy until about a couple months ago.  Her father Soumah, a widowed fisherman, remembers what happened.

"She woke up at 6am, her body was very warm and when I wanted to give her a bath, she couldn’t hold on, she kept falling."

Today, Yeninka is almost completely paralyzed, she can’t move her legs and arms, and can barely talk.

She was diagnosed with poliomyelitis, a viral disease that was thought to have been eradicated in Guinea for three years.

According to Unicef’s child health expert Ibrahima Diallo, Yeninka pays the price for the lack of access to vaccines and education in the country.

Protecting children in remote areas
"The problem with this little girl, he says, is that her mother has passed away and her father is often out fishing, so her vaccinations routine might have been neglected. Also she lives in this very poor neighborhood which is hard to access."

Today in Guinea, Yeninka is no more an isolated case. In 2009, 42 children like her have been notified.

Since the end of 2008, a polio epidemic is spreading from Nigeria to neighboring countries in West and central Africa.

But in Guinea, after 3 years of being polio-free, the outbreak raises the question of the access to immunization.

And the political turnmoil the country has faced in the last few years has had a significant impact on the health of children in the country.

"The health system stopped benefiting from adequate funding", explains Camille Soumah, national coordinator of the vaccination program.

As a result, the ministry was not able "to organize advanced vaccination campaigns that would have allowed them to protect every child, even in remote areas." 

The new polio cases prompted the Guinean Ministry of Health, with the support of UNICEF, WHO, Rotary International and other partners to embark on a set of national vaccination campaigns during which health agents are going door to door in every dwelling to immunize all children under 5 years of age. 

Rural radio to spread the message
And to help raise awareness of the importance of vaccination, UNICEF supports local rural radios to spread the message. In Dabola, a rural region in Eastern Guinea, the community radio airs a health programme everyday, calling people to stay home and wait for the health agents to vaccinate their children.

The radio reaches the villages in a 100km perimeter, and the message seems to be heard.

Rural radio is a very powerful tool, according to Sekou Camara, the district’s head of health. "This is the best way to convince reluctant families. Some people can’t read and can’t get the information right. Some think the vaccine is not useful as they were themselves vaccinated. With the radio, we can spread the right message and raise awareness very easily."

Once all children under 5 in a household are vaccinated, the vaccination team marks the house with chalk with a big V that indicates that every child was immunized. 

"With good quality campaigns that leaves no child unvaccinated, these campaigns can succeed in making Guinea polio-free again" said UNICEF Representative in Guinea, Julien Harneis.

The vaccination days in Guinea are part of an ongoing response to a polio epidemic that first spread from polio/endemic Nigeria to its neighbors in 2008 and is still paralyzing children in West and Central Africa.

400 000 volunteer are mobilized for a set of 3 days campaigns organized simultaneously in 19 countries in the region. The objective is to vaccinate 85 million children and stop the polio epidemic before the end of 2010.

 

 
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