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At a glance: Niger

Fighting polio across Niger’s Sahara desert

© UNICEF Niger/2005/Delvigne-Jean
Roukaya, 12, has been paralyzed by polio since the age of five.
NIAMEY, Niger, 2 February 2005 – Twelve-year-old Roukaya has been paralyzed by polio since the age of five. She was unable to walk until she received corrective surgery last year. For the first time in her life, she is able to go out of the house by herself.

Every morning, Roukaya drives to a rehabilitation centre in a tricycle donated by UNICEF. The UNICEF-supported centre offers physiotherapy and counselling as well as literacy and vocational activities, such as knitting and weaving. Soon, Roukaya will be able to move around with the help of prosthesis and crutches. She dreams of becoming a taxi driver when she grows up.

© UNICEF Niger/2005/Delvigne-Jean
With a tricycle donated by UNICEF, Roukaya can go to a UNICEF-supported rehabilitation centre and learn how to walk again.
To protect millions of children and to make sure that they wil not repeat Roukaya’s ordeal, the single-largest public health campaign kicked off in 2004 across 23 Sub-Saharan Africa countries. The campaign targeted 80 million children against the deadly effects of polio. Over one million vaccinators and volunteers travelled door-to-door in villages in the hopes of preventing a public health tragedy and stopping polio forever.

One challenge of the polio campaign is delivering vaccines to children living in hard-to-reach areas and remote communities. Two-thirds of Niger is covered by the Sahara desert, and vaccination teams have to travel long distances to find each child.

© UNICEF Niger/2005/Delvigne-Jean
A team of vaccinators travels across the Sahara desert to immunize children against polio.
On a December day, a team of vaccinators travelled through the blazing heat of the Sahara desert. The vaccinators on board were on their way to reach the children in the isolated migration corridors used by nomads.

“Vaccination costs are multiplied by five, even by ten,” said UNICEF Coordinator Abdul Kader Rene Joly, who was on site to monitor the vaccination activities. “It costs about a dollar to vaccinate a child living in an urban area, in a densely populated setting. Here, it might cost between five and ten dollars because the population is spread out over such a large area.”

When the van reached a water source where children and their families were fetching water, a young Tuareg woman carrying a baby girl on her back attracted the attention of the vaccination team.

Seizing the opportunity, a health worker explained to the young mother about the benefits of vaccination. She then gave the baby two drops of polio vaccine and a supplement of vitamin A.

With a suspension of immunization campaigns in parts of northern Nigeria in 2003, polio has spread to other formerly polio-free African countries, including Niger. This resurgence of polio in Sub-Saharan Africa has hindered the global fight to eradicate polio by the end of 2008.

“As long as the wild polio virus exists children are at risk everywhere,” explains Joly. “This is why it is so important to reach children who have not been reached. If we want to eradicate polio, we have to vaccinate every child.”




2 February 2005: UNICEF’s Thierry Delvigne-Jean reports on UNICEF’s efforts to eradicate polio in Niger.

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