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At a glance: Niger

Teaming up to fight polio with Niger and Nigeria's synchronized immunization

© UNICEF/Niger/2009/Amadou
Two-year old Aboubacar Sidikou is one of the 13 children that contracted polio during the first four months of 2009.

By Seydou Amadou Oumarou

MARADI, Niger, 5 June 2009 – Aboubacar Sidikou used to be an active two-year-old, running after goats in the courtyard or playing hide-and-seek all day long with his brothers. Now, the once enthusiastic boy has now become very shy. He rests in the arms of his grandmother and suddenly does not pay attention to anyone anymore.

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Aboubacar is one of the 13 Nigerien children who have contracted polio this year. 
"His legs have been becoming weaker and weaker for months. He eats so little and he has fever all the time. He once was such an energetic boy – this is heartbreaking," said his grandmother, Rahanatou Mahamane.

Like all the children who have contracted the disease in 2009, Aboubacar-Sidikou lives near the Niger/Nigerian border. In 2009, Nigeria has had 288 cases of polio.

"So far, there is no evidence that either Niger or Nigeria has contaminated its neighbour," said the immunization coordinator of the Maradi Health district M. Lawal Ladoua.

Reducing potential risks

"As of April 2009, Niger accounts for as many polio cases as in the whole of 2008," said UNICEF Niger Immunization specialist Dr. Abdou Moudjoubi Chitou. "The idea is to immunize all children under the age of five at the same time, and therefore reduce potential risks linked with trans-border movements of these children, given that the region presents high migration movements."

© UNICEF video/2009
For the campaign, Government district communicators teamed up and aired sensitisation programmes on community radio.

The Nigerian Government, UNICEF, the World Health Organisation and their partners responded to this influx of cases with a third round of polio immunization that took place between 29 May and 1 June and targeted over 4.2 million children in the country with oral polio vaccine doses and Vitamin A tablets.

Building trust to immunise children

Similar campaigns will take place in 11 countries of the West African region.

"By synchronising vaccinations between countries, we have a bigger chance to reach all children at risk and stop the polio virus in the region," said Dr. Chitou. "It is not the first time that Governments in the region and their partners have organised a simultaneous immunization campaign, but at the level of eleven countries, a campaign of this extent, is a wide-scale event."

Community support for effective results

With support and guidance from UNICEF, community leaders of Niger and Nigeria's bordering villages are working together to sensitise communities.

Before the campaign, the village chief of Dan Abdallah, 60-year-old Elhadj Adamou Nakacha,  got in touch with his peers of the Nigerian villages of Langusaw and Faru, located less than a kilometre from the border. Government district communicators of Guidan Roumdji and Sabon Birni, teamed up and aired sensitisation programmes on community radio.

"In addition to this initiative, public announcers from two villages worked together to persuade the communities to immunise children against polio," said Nigerian Health communicator Abdou Ali.

Because of these initiatives, many people were once again willing to open their doors to the vaccinators on 29 May when the third polio immunization round of the year kicked off.

"The vaccinators need to work at their ease, given that access to people's homes is not always easy. We work a lot to get people to adopt an open-door attitude," said Mr. Abdallah.




20 May 2009: UNICEF correspondent Eduardo Cure reports on efforts to step up immunization in Niger and Nigeria.
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