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Togo completes first immunization round in regional push against polio

© UNICEF Togo/2009/Bonnaud
A Togolese child is immunized with two drops of oral polio vaccine.

By Hadrien Bonnaud

VOGAN, Togo, 9 March 2009 – Beneath a blazing sun, mothers Akuba and Afi are pounding manioc in the yard of their compound when two health workers from the Expanded Programme of Immunization arrive.

"Polio vaccination! All children must be immunized!" the two vaccinators, Sissi and Nadou, call out. Akuba and Afi stop pounding and go to see the visitors.

Sissi explains to the two mothers that polio is a viral infection of the nervous system that can lead to paralysis and death. Afi and Akuba are quickly persuaded to call their children over, whereupon Nadou deftly squeezes two drops of poliovirus vaccine into the mouth of each child.

"We will come back a second time this month,” Nadou informs them, putting her vaccination kit away. “I really believe that this national door-to-door campaign will get rid of this disease for good.”

© UNICEF Togo/2009/Bonnaud
Sissi and Nadou were among more than 30,000 health workers mobilized to vaccinate Togolese children in the first of two planned immunization rounds.

Over 1.4 million children reached

Togo was clear of polio from 2003 to 2007, but the disease reappeared in 2008 when three cases were identified in the north. Faced with the threat of an epidemic, the Togolese Government recently launched a national campaign against polio – one prong of a synchronized, eight-nation campaign in West Africa spearheaded by the World Health Organization, Rotary International, the US Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, and UNICEF.

In the first round of immunization, completed last week, no less than 1.5 million doses of polio vaccine were administered by some 30,300 vaccinators and 3,000 supervisors who were mobilized in the country’s 608 health centres – as well as through door-to-door activities.

An estimated 95 per cent of children under the age of five, over 1.4 million in all, have been immunized.

The campaign in Togo is part of a global effort. Over the last 15 years, UNICEF has delivered more than 10 billion doses of the oral poliovirus vaccine to more than 2 billion children worldwide. Since the launch of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in 1988 at the International Health Assembly in Geneva, the number of cases of poliomyelitis declared each year around the world has dropped by 99 per cent – from 350,000 in 1988 to 1,000 in 2008.

Key messages on child survival

In Togo, where the mortality rate for children under five is 100 per 1,000, the vaccination campaign also provides the opportunity for UNICEF to spread its key messages on child survival and development.

Once Akuba and Afi's children have been vaccinated against polio, Sissi begins to go over four key messages with them, stressing the importance of handwashing with soap, treating diarrhoea, practicing exclusive breastfeeding and sleeping under a mosquito net.

When the conversation turns to mosquito nets, Afi looks uncomfortable, then confesses that she has not put her net up yet. "Well, let's go and do it straight away!” exclaims Nadou.

Once the net is in place, the vaccinators repeat the four practices, which, if adopted, can go a long way towards preventing deaths among young children.

Through this vaccination campaign, UNICEF aims to eradicate polio in Togo by 2010.  Behaviour change and the adoption of improved practices for child survival should contribute to a 15 per cent reduction in mortality in children under the age of five by 2012.



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