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At a glance: Guinea

A synchronized campaign to eradicate polio in Guinea and neighbouring countries

UNICEF Image: Polio, CONAKRY, Guinea
© UNICEF Guinea/2009/Baro
A group of kindergarteners receiving the polio vaccine at school in Guinea, which was polio-free for five years prior to being re-infected in 2009.

By Fatoumata Thiam Diallo

CONAKRY, Guinea, 30 July 2009 – Guinea was polio-free from 2004 through 2008. As a close neighbour of countries where the virus is still present, Guinea was still eligible for mass polio immunization campaigns every year, but it was on its way to being certified as a polio-free.

Before this year’s campaign began in May, however, Guinea was re-infected in an area along the border of Côte d’Ivoire. Last month, a case was identified near the border of Mali. Thus far in 2009, there have been a total of 13 confirmed cases of polio in Guinea.

In late June, a synchronized polio campaign was launched in Guinea and four neighbouring countries. The immunization drive was aimed at eradicating polio in Côte d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Mali, Guinea and Liberia, in order to protect children from the crippling disease.

“I heard about the campaign on the radio, on television and from the chief of my quarter yesterday,” said one mother, Oumou N’diaye, as she and her five children waited for the vaccination team outside their house.

Spreading the message

In Guinea, it is critical to get the word out about the polio campaign and the two weeks of organized, health-centred activities that take place nationwide each year. The immunization drive is part of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, a partnership spearheaded by the World Health Organization, Rotary International, the US Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, and UNICEF.

Prior to the recent effort here, messages on national television invited the population to make sure that all children under five received the oral polio vaccine. For 10 days, local radio stations broadcast educational messages about the campaign, including a rhythmic, vaccine-themed jingle.

In addition, the media conveyed key facts about polio and discussed the consequences of not completing all vaccines, as well as details about the reinfection of the country with the wild poliovirus.

Essential practices

Also in preparation for the campaign, more than 200 Imams from the five communes of Conakry were briefed on the essential health practices, including exclusive breastfeeding, use of bednets to prevent malaria, proper handwashing and correct vaccination.

The Minister of Religious Affairs and UNICEF Representative in Guinea Mohammed Cisse presided over the gathering. Vaccination was particularly emphasized at the meeting, so that the religious leaders could help break down resistance within certain communities.

Presentations were made, as well, in all five communes of Conakry with groups of at least 400 women who are leaders in their communities.

Across the country, community agents, traditional communicators and chiefs received the necessary information on essential practices and the polio campaign, and were encouraged to disseminate the messages far and wide.



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