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Samira’s story: Despite dangers, vaccinators fight to keep Iraq polio-free

© UNICEF video
Although 95 per cent of children under the age of five in Iraq have been immunized against polio, they need to receive vaccine several times to become fully immune.

BAGHDAD, Iraq, 15 December 2006 – Iraq’s fourth national polio campaign of 2006 is sending thousands of Iraqi vaccinators from house to house, to immunize children at their doorsteps.

Iraq has remained polio-free since 2000, despite facing some of the most difficult and dangerous conditions to be found anywhere. This remarkable achievement is largely thanks to the dedication of the vaccinators. They are the backbone of the country’s regular National Immunization Days – an ongoing effort to deliver UNICEF-supplied polio vaccine to 4.8 million children under the age of five.

In the current unpredictable environment, polio vaccinators face more challenges than ever as they go about their work. But their commitment to reach every child is unwavering. Samira, 52, a veteran vaccinator from southern Iraq, told UNICEF why she keeps fighting to keep children safe from polio. Here is her story.

Need for the vaccine

“I have been a health worker for 21 years. This is a job that I love doing. When the polio campaigns started in Iraq in the 1990s I joined them as a vaccinator. I have participated in every single polio campaign that has happened in Iraq for the last decade.

“Being a polio vaccinator during Iraq’s polio National Immunization Days is a wonderful thing to do. Each campaign lasts five days. I enjoy being able to work outside the health centre and visit families in their homes. It makes me feel more active in helping children.

“Before I immunize each child, I explain to the family that polio is an incurable disease but can be prevented with the polio vaccine, which is very safe and beneficial for their child. It is important to help families understand why their children need the polio vaccine before they will accept it.

Difficult times

“Today, we face many challenges to reaching every child with the polio vaccine. The security is bad. This makes it very difficult for us.

“Because Iraq has four polio campaigns every year, usually families get to know our faces and we are familiar to them when we come to visit their homes. But there are a lot of displaced people living in our area these days. Sometimes we find new families who don’t know us, and they can be suspicious of us.

© UNICEF video
Up to 4.8 million children are being immunized against polio during Iraq’s National Immunization Days.

“Earlier this year, my team was surrounded by armed men who did not believe we were only there to give vaccine to their children. Once they found out who we were, they apologized and let us immunize the children.

“These are difficult times, but it is more important than ever that we continue the polio campaigns. Every child has the right to be protected against polio. We have also heard that polio has come back to countries near Iraq. So we must do everything we can to keep our children safe.

Sending a message

“It is much easier for vaccinators to reach children if they know that the campaigns are happening and expect us to come. We need to involve the local people as much as we can to overcome the security problems.

“UNICEF helps us to mobilize communities and distribute information on why polio immunization is important for child health.

“I am so proud that Iraq is still polio-free despite the situation we face. Whatever happens, I am going to keep working as a polio vaccinator. By continuing to support the polio campaigns, we are sending a message to the whole world: Iraq’s health workers are still working to save and protect our children.”




15 December 2006:
UNICEF Correspondent Jane O’Brien reports on Iraq’s fight to stay polio-free in the face of enormous security challenges.
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