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At a glance: Nigeria

Fight against polio in Nigeria focuses on community involvement

© UNICEF Nigeria/2007/Njoku
Kabo Galdi, a polio vaccinator, during the Immunization Plus Days in Ilela, Nigeria.

By Geoffrey Njoku

ILELA, Nigeria, 26 February 2007 – Though wrinkled and bent with age, Kabo Galdi has hands that are surprisingly steady as she drops oral polio vaccine into the mouths of children. The grandmother of six was one of the roving vaccinators mobilized for Nigeria’s ‘Immunization Plus Days’ last month.

Some 700,000 children under the age of five were to be immunized during the four-day campaign across Sokoto State in the northwest, where 40 children were paralyzed by polio last year. In addition, children under the age of 12 months were to receive the hepatitis B vaccine.

As a grandmother, Ms. Galdi can open doors that may be shut against others. She was chosen for this door-to-door mission as a result of the shift in the immunization strategy towards a stronger focus on community members.

She can also bring firsthand testimony to her job. Her six grandchildren are all immunized, and she says no child should fall sick or die “if it is in my power” to prevent.

Fixed posts and house-to-house

In January, parents were invited to bring their children to fixed immunization posts set up in different wards. Messages on local radio stations – as well as announcements by town criers with megaphones and by traditional and religious leaders – informed communities about the coming Immunization Days.

Although a number of children turned up at the fixed posts, especially at the beginning of the round, provisions were made for community members like Ms. Galdi to go house-to-house to ensure that all children were reached.

© UNICEF Nigeria/2007/Njoku
A child being immunized against hepatitis B at Kasarawa settlement in Nigeria.

They found that some families were not well informed about the Immunization Plus Days or were still reluctant to immunize their children.

Commitment to eradication

As the last polio-endemic nation in Africa, Nigeria was responsible for over 90 per cent of the continent’s polio cases in 2006. The country is in a race against time to demonstrate that it is taking drastic action to end poliovirus transmission.

The Chief Executive of the National Programme on Immunization, Dr. Edugie Abebe, came to Sokoto State to monitor the immunization exercise in January. She reiterated the government’s commitment to the eradication of polio but said the disease cannot be eradicated unless routine immunization coverage goes up to 80 per cent.

Already, some progress is being made. Half of Nigeria’s 36 states were polio-free in 2006. And the bulk of the cases occurred in the first half of the year, while a marked decrease was observed during the second half. This improvement may be attributable to the new Immunization Plus Days strategy, which resulted in a higher number of children reached with lifesaving vaccine.



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