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Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow highlights polio immunization drive in Chad

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0348/Holt
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow administers oral polio vaccine to a baby in N'Djamena Chad during a week-long visit to highlight the start of a nationwide polio vaccination campaign.

By Salma Zulfiqar

N'DJAMENA, Chad, 8 March 2010 – UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow recently visited Chad to highlight the importance of vaccinating the country's children against polio.

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Ms. Farrow's visit coincided with the kick-off of a new national immunization campaign in Chad, which is part of a synchronized polio immunization programme currently targeting some 85 million children across West and Central Africa.

"I have come here as a mother and as a grandmother and as an ambassador for UNICEF to tell all the women and fathers to be sure to bring their children in to be vaccinated," said Ms. Farrow, during her visit.

Renewed commitment

At a special ceremony in N'djamena on 6 March, Chad's President, Idriss Deby Itno, renewed his commitment to fighting polio.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0345/Holt
Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow holds Ali Mahmat, 3, who survived polio, on her lap while talking to his mother, Fatim Abakar, at their home in Mao, western Chad.

Dressed in bright yellow shirts, teams of vaccinators – supported by UNICEF and the World Health Organization – gathered around as the president commenced the campaign by administering the vaccine to a child.

Cultural challenges

Ms. Farrow met with Chadian officials and with teams of people engaged in mobilizing communities in the east and west of the country, as well as in the capital. She witnessed firsthand the cultural challenges that the vaccination teams are facing, such as gaining access to children when their fathers are not at home – a common taboo here. She also met children who are living with the devastating effects of polio infection.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0283/Holt
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow talks to a group of displaced people about the importance of polio vaccination at a camp in Goz Baeda, eastern Chad.

Chad was nearly polio free in 2003, but the virus has begun to return, carried in by people from Nigeria – where polio remains endemic. As a result, there are renewed concerns that the disease will spread and the number of infections will increase in Chad – some 69 cases have been identified here since the start of 2009.

Immunization is the best defence against polio's spread, as the disease is irreversible once it's contracted, and also contagious.

"When a child has polio, he or she is marginalised and has a very difficult life," said UNICEF Representative in Chad Dr. Marzio Babille. "These children face a lot of difficulties and often end up as beggars, as we have seen not only in Chad but across Africa."

He added that the campaign is made even more difficult because children must receive multiple doses of the vaccine. "In order to reach out to children multiple times and eradicate polio we also need adequate resources," he said.

Synchronizing the campaign

Much of Chad has poor access to electricity and bad roads, which makes the immunization process even more challenging.

"A functional cold chain at district and regional levels is needed to preserve the vaccine at the adequate temperature," Dr. Babille said. "In Chad, 25 per cent of the cold chain network is not adequately maintained, causing major problems before and during immunization rounds."

Multiple countries have recently been re-exposed to polio through Chad, including Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Indonesia. In response, the current campaign – launched by UNICEF and its partners across the region – is targeting 19 countries in an effort to synchronize polio's eradication across multiple borders.

"It is important that we vaccinate at the same time throughout the region to stop poliovirus transmission," said UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa Gianfranco Rotigliano.

Worldwide, polio remains endemic in Nigeria, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.




6 March 2010: UNICEF's Salma Zulfiqar reports on Mia Farrow's visit to western Chad.
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