The horseman and his vaccines

Tirelessly, Mahamat travels across fields and wadis to vaccinate children against polio

Fulbert Ngarmague Koslengar & Mbai-Hodjim Roland Yotobumbeti
UNICEF Chad/2020/Mbai-Hodjim Roland Yotobumbeti
18 December 2020

Chad was certified by WHO as a polio free country in June 2016. However, despite tremendous efforts made by the country in polio eradication some cases have emerged from the vaccine itself over the last ten months.

The first vaccine derived polio virus case has been detected in Chad on October 16, 2019, in Koundoul (Mandelia Health District).  Since then, a total number of 94 Vaccine Drive Polio Viruses have been detected across the country.  

In the Abdi Health District, the surveillance of Acute Flaccid Paralysis (AFP) has been very effective. Data collected by WHO show that the district has been very performant in finding AFP cases. Indeed, for this year only, ten AFP cases and one case of Vaccine Derived Poliomyelitis have been found in Abdi.

As a response to these outbreaks, Chad has decided to organize two polio campaigns, with the support of Rotary International, the National Philanthropic Trust and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The campaigns were held in 91 Health District including that of Abdi. The second round was held from November 27 to November 29, 2020, and it involved all the children from 0 to 59 months of age.

In this context, the 27 years old Mahamat Tahir from the village of Ourga (Abdi District), has a contribution of his own. He decided to vaccinate children living in the hard to reach areas. On a horse back he travels 27 kilometres a day to reach children in very remoted villages. Ourga has in total 16 villages and a target population (0-59 months) of 1501 children. At this time of the year, most of mothers are in the fields, either to harvest their crops or to farm garlic and onion. Their farms are very far away from the health canter.

Every morning Mahamat Tahir gets his vaccines from the health facility. Once a day, he is supplied by his supervisor who brings additional vaccines on a motorbike.

"I have often seen mothers refusing OPV for their children. But the fact that they know me helps resolve these rejections very quickly", Mahamat explains.

UNICEF Chad/2020/Mbai-Hodjim Roland Yotobumbeti

"I’m just a community health worker trying to help my people" 

Mahamat Tahir

"For five years now, I’ve been trying to get all the children of my village immunized in a proper manner and to help them get the adequate healthcare they need. Polio is a terrible disease that paralyze children for life; as long as God gives me strength, I will contribute to chase it out of this village. Our parents have immunized us; therefore, they have protected us. So let’s immunize our children and protect them before them as well. Dear mothers, let’s go to the health center in order to get our children immunized against Polio and all the vaccine preventable diseases. Dear mothers, get your children under five immunized against polio. Immunization is life!" 

That’s the message Mahamat is carrying across the villages.

According to the independent monitoring conducted by WHO, in the Health District of Abdi, 91% of children under five have been immunized during the second round of the campaign; almost 96% of the parents have been informed about the campaign before its launch.  Furthermore, community relays have visited 3 400 households during the campaign, totaling 15 192 men and 20 738 women.