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In Senegal, innovative vaccine campaign reaches remote communities

© UNICEF Senegal/2010/Shryock
Having just administered oral polio vaccine to a baby in Joal, Senegal, health workers mark the child’s hand to indicate that she has been immunized.

By Ricci Shryock

DAKAR, Senegal, 3 May 2010 – Across Senegal, UNICEF and its partners are working to vaccinate more than 2 million children under the age of five against polio. But with many of these children living with migratory families or in remote island villages, reaching them can prove difficult.

As Senegal moves forward with its polio immunization campaign, health authorities have focused on reaching remote populations in new ways. 

The campaign is part of a larger regional effort, spearheaded by the Joint Global Polio Eradication Initiative, to protect some 85 million children across West and Central Africa.

The hardest to reach

Mamadou, 2, is part of Senegal’s migratory community. His family moves from its home village to the city in search of work each year. Like many mobile children, Mamadou had never been vaccinated.

In January, Mamadou became the second child this year to contract polio in Senegal. As of 28 April, 13 cases of polio had been reported here in 2010.

Migratory populations are among the hardest people to target with vaccinations, said UNICEF Senegal Health Specialist Dr. Djariatou Sow Sall. Mobile families are not always at the same address, and they tend to avoid institutions such as health clinics.

“Many people who are not from [the capital] don’t go to the health centres to get vaccines,” said Dr. Sow. “There are cultural and economic barriers to reaching them.”

© UNICEF Senegal/2010/Shryock
Community health workers in Joal, Senegal go door to door to locate village children who need to be vaccinated against polio.

Beyond door-to-door strategies

To overcome these challenges, health workers are moving beyond their basic door-to-door vaccination strategies. They have set up tents in open public spaces and increased social mobilization campaigns, which include public announcements in television, radio and other media.

Vaccination teams also use boats to reach another remote community – families who live on secluded islands off the coast of Senegal’s Fatick region. The work can be time-consuming. In the district of Foundiougne alone, there are more than 20 small islands that health workers must reach.

In these coastal regions, where the families of migrant fishermen are clustered, children are often vulnerable because they are constantly on the move, adds Dr. Sow.



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