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Central African Republic

In the Central African Republic, UNICEF reaches out to ethnic minorities in the fight against polio

© UNICEF CAR/2012/Ebelle
Mothers from the local Peuhl population participate in a community meeting with UNICEF in Boali Village, in the Central African Republic.

By Colette Boughton

BOYALI VILLAGE, Central African Republic, 30 May 2012 – Following the discovery of four cases of polio in late 2011, UNICEF and its partners have supported the Government of the Central African Republic (CAR) in organizing a series of emergency polio vaccination campaigns in 2012.

To protect children from the paralyzing and irreversible effects of the disease, and to reach the goal of eradicating polio in CAR, vaccination campaigns must aim to reach every child. But some parents are reluctant to vaccinate their children, and some families live in remote areas and need to be made aware of vaccination campaigns and services available to their children.

“Communication and social mobilization are critical components for making sure that children are vaccinated. Parents have a right to receive information and participate in decisions related to their health,” said Dennis Larsen, UNICEF Chief of Communication for Development in the Central African Republic.

UNICEF works with partners in the government and the media to provide posters as well as SMS and radio messages to promote polio immunization campaigns. Social mobilizers visit communities to discuss vaccination with parents and persuade them to have their children fully vaccinated.

© UNICEF CAR/2012/Ebelle
UNICEF Communication for Development Specialist Yves Sanghamy leads a discussion on health services in the Central African Republic. The religious chief of the village (left) plays a critical role in promoting polio vaccination.

Social mobilization

The Central African Republic is a multi-ethnic country, where different communities may have different attitudes about health. To ensure the greatest possible coverage, UNICEF visits villages in the lead-up to immunization campaigns to hear the views and experiences of parents and to learn what prevents them from using important health services.

In the village of Boali in Ombella M’Poko, the UNICEF recently organized a community meeting that included many members of the local Peuhl population. Peuhls are a Muslim minority spread across many countries in West and Central Africa. They are traditionally pastoralist, although many are now settled in towns or villages, and they have been targeted by various armed groups and bandits for their livestock and wealth, often fleeing to other parts of the country to escape this violence.

Mamouna Dibrila, who has four children, shared the concern of many mothers. “After being vaccinated, sometimes the children are sick with a fever or diarrhoea,” she said. “When we go to the hospital, we have to pay for medicine.”

UNICEF is working to ensure that children with these symptoms after vaccination are treated free of charge so that fewer parents are discouraged from vaccinating their children.

“My children are scared of vaccinations, but I prefer they get vaccinated as it protects them from illness,” said Ms. Dibrila. “I take them whenever there is a campaign. Some families cannot afford to travel to the health centre, but when they [vaccinators] come to the village, most children get vaccinated.”

© UNICEF CAR/2012/Boughton
A 3-year-old boy receives the oral polio vaccine in Bogazi Village in the Central African Republic. He has also received a dose of vitamin A and de-worming medication.

“My four children are fully vaccinated. I do this to prevent illness. But some families don’t listen to the advice,” said Angele Yaziki. Indeed, some children in the community have had few or no vaccinations. UNICEF mobilizes families to speak about the benefits of vaccination as community agents and leaders, and works with traditional and religious leaders to raise awareness about the devastating consequences of illnesses such as polio.

Commitment to reach more vulnerable children

UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other partners working with the government have organized three campaigns in three months to prevent any possible new epidemic of polio. The WHO recommends that all children receive three vaccinations against polio between the age of 2 months and 6 years.

The campaigns have also provided children with Vitamin A supplements and de-worming, part of an integrated package of health services to improve child survival in a country with the ninth highest rate of child mortality in the world. 

“In the future, UNICEF would like to support the government to stage more Child Health Days, which will not only vaccinate children against polio but vaccinate them against all other diseases as well,” said Pierre Signe, UNICEF’s Chief of Child Survival and Development. “Child Health Days twice a year would also be a vital opportunity to identify children and pregnant women with malnutrition and begin the treatment they need. UNICEF highlights the need for additional funds to make this a reality for children in CAR.”



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