#ENDPolio: Leave No Child Behind

Reaching children with life-saving vaccines

Ruth Pappoe
A UNICEF staff member vaccinates a young boy in Sagnarigu in the Northern Region
22 October 2019

GARIZEGU, NORTHERN REGION, 25 SEPTEMBER 2019 - It’s 10 o’clock in the morning. Two community health nurses, one vaccine coordinator and five UNICEF staff meet at the Garizegu Community Health Center in the Sagnarigu District of the Northern Region. The second round of the polio vaccination campaign is set to begin. Porbilla, UNICEF Health and Nutrition Officer, assists the designated vaccine coordinator Rashid from Ghana Health Service to pack sufficient polio vaccines into ice packs for the first few stops for the day. 

A few minutes later two mothers walk into the facility to with their children, both of whom are one-year old.

“We heard that there will be polio vaccination today, so we decided to come to the clinic,” one of the mothers told the nurse.

“You’re welcome. How did you hear about this?” The nurse asked.

“There was a van passing through the community yesterday, which announced that starting today we should send out children to the clinic for vaccination.” The mothers added that they also saw posters scattered through-out the community.

One of the nurses take out the vaccines and assists UNICEF Representative Anne-Claire Dufay and UNICEF Chief of Field Office Margaret Gwada in administering the vaccines to both children. Once this is completed, the team heads out into the community and makes a first stop at a school.

A team of UNICEF and Ghana Health Service going on a vaccination drive in a community
A team of UNICEF and Ghana Health Service staff visit households and schools in Garizegu in the Northern Region to vaccinate children against the polio vaccine on 25 September 2019.

Ms Dufay, who had joined the team for the community visit, helps the vaccinators to mark the finger of little Sarah, a pupil of Peach Basic School, to indicate that she has been immunized. Ms Dufay said: “It’s important that we reach every child. Polio is a highly infectious disease. One child who contracts polio in Ghana is one too many.”

The team then split in two to ensure that more houses are visited, and more children are immunized.

Both teams walk for miles throughout community from house to house verifying if the children have been vaccinated already in the previous round and ensuring that parents and care givers practice good hygiene to mitigate against the spread of the disease. Each visit is recorded and reported to the central health office.

UNICEF Representative, Anne-Claire Dufay marks a child's finger to show that she has been vaccinated.
UNICEF Representative, Anne-Claire Dufay marks a child's finger to show that she has been vaccinated against the polio virus in Sagnarigu in the Northern Region on 25 September 2019.

Ghana had been declared polio-free for ten years until earlier this year. Sadly, the virus was detected in a two-year old girl, the first case of the disease being identified in a person in a decade. The little girl was admitted at the Chereponi District Hospital in the North-East Region diagnosed with acute flaccid paralysis (AFP), a key symptom of the disease. Shortly after, it was confirmed that she had contracted polio and was permanently disabled in her left leg.

Shortly after the Ministry of Health officially broke the news to the general public, UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the Health Promotion Department of the Ghana Health Service came together to start the first round of the polio vaccination campaign focusing on six districts in the Northern and North-East Regions, including Chereponi where the first case was reported.

For the second round of the campaign, 29 districts across the Northern, Greater Accra and Upper East Regions have been targeted.

A nurse vaccinates children against the polio virus
A nurse vaccinates children in a school in Sagnarigu in the Northern Region against polio virus on 25 September 2019.

Polio is a highly contagious disease that can cause paralysis or even death. The only way to prevent polio is to vaccinate baby shortly after she or he is born.  The illness can be contracted through water or food that has been contaminated with feces. People who live in locations where open defecation is a common practice, for example, are at a higher risk of contracting the disease someone in that area is affected. A child who contracts polio may show signs of fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness in the next and pain and weakness in the limbs.

As dusk falls, the polio response team meet at a health centre in Tamale to count the numbers of houses which were visited and the number of children who were immunized that day.  Ghana Health Service, UNICEF, WHO and partners also made sure that they accounted for all vaccine vials that were used during that day. The team also discuss the strategy set in place to ensure that children are reached, and that families are educated on good hygiene practices.

Ghana Health Service and UNICEF officials leading the vaccination drive
UNICEF and Ghana Health Service officials in a community in Sagnarigu in the Northern Region verifying that children in each household have been vaccinated against the polio virus on 25 September 2019.

Polio is an illness which can be crippling, or even fatal.  However, it can be prevented if every person is vaccinated.  Ghana Health Service, UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners are continuing to carry out comprehensive response to the outbreak, which includes further vaccinations, public advocacy, communication and social mobilization on vaccination and environmental hygiene to ensure that together, we leave no child behind.