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Kenya, 10 November 2015: Polio and Immunization Ambassador is UN Person of the Year 2015

© UNICEF Kenya/2015/Desloovere
Mr Kipchumba together with Ms Pirkko Heinonen, UNICEF Representative a.i.

 
By Pieter Desloovere

NAIROBI, Kenya, 10 November 2015 – Harold Kipchumba, Kenya’s Polio and Immunization Ambassador, is the winner of the UN Kenya Person of the Year 2015. This prestigious award was presented to Mr. Kipchumba on Friday 30 October during celebrations to mark the 70th Anniversary of the United Nations. It was in recognition of his relentless advocacy efforts to promote the vaccination of every single child in Kenya.

The UN in Kenya Person of the Year award was introduced in 2002 to collectively honour those who have shown personal commitment towards achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and who have through their actions served as an inspiration to all Kenyans.

Mr. Kipchumba, a polio survivor, was jointly nominated by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) Kenya, “for his unwavering support and outstanding efforts towards elimination and eradication of vaccine-preventable diseases” in Kenya.

Other nominees who received certificates of commendation were:

Ms. Martha Karua – For her immense contribution to the current constitution, activism for human and women’s rights and advocacy for the two-thirds gender rule principle.; Mrs. Sarah Tunai, First Lady of Narok County – for championing a holistic social development solution (Eco Manyatta Green Building Revolution) that addresses all the four United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) Outcomes within the pastoralist communities in Kenya; and Walk of Hope – an organization comprised of youth activists from Northern Kenya who have been walking for peace and engaging communities in the region to play an active role in addressing the security situation in the area.

© UNICEF Kenya/2015/Desloovere
Mr Harold Kipchumba, UN Person of the Year 2015

Since the May 2013 polio outbreak in the Horn of Africa, which includes Kenya, Mr. Kipchumba has been on a mission. He has visited and held dialogue meetings with identified communities and groups, families and individuals who are resistant to polio and other EPI vaccines, either because of their beliefs or practices (religious, cultural, among others). Indeed he has won the hearts of many through his passionate appeal to parents, caregivers and gate-keepers. He continues to lobby opinion leaders including politicians, policy makers, religious leaders, private sector and communities to give support to the repeated polio campaigns, as a result of the outbreak in the Horn of Africa and global eradication efforts, both at national and county government levels.

“Immunization is not a choice, it is everyone’s responsibility and it is a right,” says Kipchumba. As a polio survivor, he knows too well how it feels to be stigmatized and isolated. At the age of 4, he became sick and started to lose the ability to walk. “If only my mum knew about the importance of two polio drops, I would not be using crutches today.”

Two years ago, in the midst of the Horn of Africa polio outbreak, the Ministry of Health, with support from UNICEF and WHO, appointed Mr Kipchumba as the Polio and Immunization Ambassador for Kenya, giving him a chance to be the face and voice of the disease and to share his story, especially with people who are still resistant to immunization. “No child should suffer or undergo any pain the way I did, be it polio or any other vaccine-preventable disease. No child should ever be denied to live because of choices made by others,” says Kipchumba.

Most recently he was in Kitui County, reaching out to the Kavonokya group, a religious community that does not believe in modern medicine or medical care but rather embraces prayers and singing as a way to heal themselves. In addition, he has also identified 15 immunization champions, all polio survivors, in counties with some of the hardest to reach areas communities. Mr. Kipchumba has enlisted their support to appeal to all parents, caregivers and gatekeepers to vaccinate and protect all children throughout Kenya and now worldwide.

Accepting this prestigious award, Mr. Kipchumba said “If there is any child out there that lacks vaccination, I want to be the person to bridge that gap. Let me assure you, the polio vaccine and all other vaccines are safe and effective.”

 

 
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