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A polio survivor dedicates her life to helping children get vaccinated

UNICEF Image: Somalia, polio
© UNICEF/2008/Minihane
Nora, a polio survivor, works for the HAN Association where she meets with families in Hargeisa to educate them on the devastating effects of refusing vaccinations.

By Christine Kapka

HARGEISA, Somalia, 25 January 2007 – When she was seven-years-old, Nora woke up feeling as if she had a cold. By the following morning, she was plagued with crippling pain and unable to walk. Now, as an adult, Nora must live with the devastating effects of contracting polio.

“I can remember getting ill,” she recounts of her childhood. “The next morning I woke up and I couldn’t walk or do much of anything. I then spent the next four months in hospital.”

Nora, who has limited mobility and can only move about with the aid of crutches, has now dedicated her life to helping others. She meets with families face to face, and motivates them to vaccinate their children against polio.

‘People are shocked’

“It really works,” said Nora. “When they hear what I have to say and what I’ve been through and see the effects of polio for themselves, almost all of the people who initially refuse the vaccination change their minds.”

Nora works for the ‘HAN Association’, a non-governmental organization which is working to educate households who have yet to vaccinate their children against polio.

The UNICEF-supported programme trains polio survivors to visit families in their homes, where they can dispel unfounded rumours and explain the repercussions of refusing vaccinations.

“This is probably one of our more successful programmes,” said Special Polio Coordinator for The HAN Association, Housam Latif. “When staff from HAN pay a visit to an individual or a family who has refused the polio vaccination, people are shocked at the sight of what polio can do to the body.”

Guaranteeing the health of children

The joint venture between WHO and UNICEF to eradicate polio is yielding fruits. In 2007, approximately 1.7 million children under five were vaccinated against polio.

However, polio campaigns need to be implemented several times each year, due to both the persistence of the virus and the low immunity of children, who are often suffering from malnutrition.

“It’s a tiring process for both health workers and the community, but the goal of a polio-free country is necessary to guarantee the health of children,” Mr. Latif said.

Mr. Latif noted that last year, 85 per cent of non-vaccinated children became immunized against polio due to the programme. 

“That’s the best part about our programme, knowing that these children won’t be crippled because of this disease. They will be safe,” Nora says.



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