UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow highlights polio in Chad
N'djamena, Chad, 8 March 2010 – UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow recently visited Chad to highlight the importance of vaccinating the country's children against polio.
Ms. Farrow's visit coincided with the kick-off of a new national immunization campaign in Chad, which is part of a synchronized polio immunization programme currently targeting some 85 million children across West and Central Africa.
"I have come here as a mother and as a grandmother and as an ambassador for UNICEF to tell all the women and fathers to be sure to bring their children in to be vaccinated," said Ms. Farrow, during her visit.
Dressed in bright yellow shirts, teams of vaccinators – supported by UNICEF and the World Health Organization – gathered around as the president commenced the campaign by administering the vaccine to a child.
She also met children who are living with the devastating effects of polio infection.
Chad was nearly polio free in 2003, but the virus has begun to return, carried in by people from Nigeria – where polio remains endemic. As a result, there are renewed concerns that the disease will spread and the number of infections will increase in Chad – some 69 cases have been identified here since the start of 2009.
Immunization is the best defence against polio's spread, as the disease is irreversible once it's contracted, and also contagious.
"When a child has polio, he or she is marginalised and has a very difficult life," said UNICEF Representative in Chad Dr. Marzio Babille. "These children face a lot of difficulties and often end up as beggars, as we have seen not only in Chad but across Africa."
He added that the campaign is made even more difficult because children must receive multiple doses of the vaccine. "In order to reach out to children multiple times and eradicate polio we also need adequate resources," he said.
Synchronizing the campaign
"A functional cold chain at district and regional levels is needed to preserve the vaccine at the adequate temperature," Dr. Babille said. "In Chad, 25 per cent of the cold chain network is not adequately maintained, causing major problems before and during immunization rounds."
Multiple countries have recently been re-exposed to polio through Chad, including Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Indonesia. In response, the current campaign – launched by UNICEF and its partners across the region – is targeting 19 countries in an effort to synchronize polio's eradication across multiple borders.
"It is important that we vaccinate at the same time throughout the region to stop poliovirus transmission," said UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa Gianfranco Rotigliano.
Worldwide, polio remains endemic in Nigeria, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
By Salma Zulfiqar