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At a glance: Nigeria

In Nigeria, the Polio Free Torch campaign aims to make the country polio-free

© UNICEF Nigeria/2012/Laulajainen
Women have brought their children to be immunized during the Polio Free Torch campaign launch in Maiduguri, Nigeria.

By Tommi Laulajainen

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria, 5 April 2012 – “I want to call on our brothers and sisters… to lay down their arms and embrace peace and dialogue,” announced Kashim Shettima, the Governor of Borno State, at the state launch of the Polio Free Torch campaign in the city of Maiduguri.

Borno State has lately been the site of ongoing violence. In August, 2011, an armed group bombed the United Nations House in Abuja, killing 22 people, and Maiduguri continues to witness attacks against police and government officials on a weekly basis.

Conflict can weaken public health systems, but Mr. Shettima is determined to make his state polio-free in spite of the security situation. “I believe where there is a will, there is a way,” he said.

The Polio Free Torch campaign – launched nationally by the Vice President of Nigeria in September 2011 – aims to help achieve the global goal of eradicating polio by the end of 2012.

© UNICEF Nigeria/2012/Laulajainen
Kashim Shettima, Governor of Borno State, holds a torch at the launch of the Polio Free Torch campaign in Maiduguri, Nigeria.

Lessons learned in the fight against polio

Borno has seen two new polio cases in the past week alone. Out of the state’s 27 Local Government Areas (LGA), 12 are considered high-risk areas for the disease. In these areas, large numbers of children continue to be missed during vaccination campaigns. During February’s ‘immunization-plus days’ (days dedicated to conducting immunization campaigns and providing other health-related services), nearly 30 per cent of caregivers still refuse to vaccinate their children.

But UNICEF and its partners are setting up two new interventions to address these issues.

Volunteer community mobilizer networks will be established in some 200 high-priority settlements. These volunteers will be trained and equipped to carry out door-to-door health education sessions with caregivers. The sessions will cover a wide range of health topics, including breastfeeding, treating diarrhoea at home and, of course, immunization.

UNICEF will also support communication-skills training for vaccination teams, helping them better express the critical importance of polio vaccination to community members.

© UNICEF Nigeria/2012/Laulajainen
Hajiya Ramatu Sani, a Local Immunization Officer in Borno State, Nigeria, was recognized for her personal contributions toward the polio eradication effort.

Working with dedicated partners

The state government has also increased its efforts toward eradicating polio, deploying a large number of senior supervisors during the campaigns. Numerous community and religious leaders have intensified their own efforts to ensure the campaign’s success, an indication that the community is gaining a sense of ownership over the campaign, which will hopefully bring better results.

One of these outstanding partners against polio is Hajiya Ramatu Sani, a Local Immunization Officer from the Askira-Uba LGA. Ms. Sani was honoured with the title ‘Polio Ambassador’ during the recent campaign launch, recognition for her personal efforts to maintain the vaccine cold chain – the network of coolers, refrigerators and cold packs that ensure vaccines retain potency in transit.

Ms. Sani spent money from her own pocket to purchase a generator and two refrigerators for immunization efforts. Governor Shettima thanked her and awarded her a personal donation of 1 million Nigerian naira (approximately US$6,300)  to encourage her to continue her efforts “beyond the call of duty.”

“If you can support, you support,” said Ms. Sani, who plans to spend the money she received to buy a back-up generator and diesel for the cold chain. “My LGA has been polio-free for the past 10 years,” she continued, “and that is the way I intend to keep it.”



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