Volunteers make polio eradication a reality

UNICEF Nigeria is working with volunteers to pioneer new models of community infrastructure that are delivering remarkable results

Polio Team, UNICEF Nigeria
A child receives a vaccine
UNICEF Nigeria

28 April 2019

Nigeria is Africa’s largest country, rife with opportunity but also beset by challenges of high growth and demand for services that often goes unmet. Polio still exists; a quarter of the population still practices open defection and millions don’t have access to clean water. Against this backdrop, UNICEF Nigeria is rethinking, testing and evaluating how communities support themselves. UNICEF Nigeria is working with volunteers to pioneer new models of community infrastructure that are delivering remarkable results. The office has found that the influence and trust volunteers possess are as important as direct services.

UNICEF Nigeria is applying this learning in the WASH and polio eradication programmes in the Northern regions of the country. The programmes have invested in volunteers spread through different networks across communities.

Nearly 200,000 volunteers are working with UNICEF Nigeria.

The Volunteers, are helping to end polio and get other lifesaving vaccinations to children. They’re also tracking births, deaths and other vital statistics while opening up access to basic health care. Volunteers are also helping communities install and maintain clean water supplies and household sanitation, including indoor latrines. These are services that rely on personal relationships. People are more likely to open up their homes to health and sanitation assessments when they know who’s at the door.

Approximately 18,000 Volunteer Community Mobilisers (VCMs), typically adult women in the community, are at the center of Nigeria’s polio eradication programme. They have built relationships and become influential in the community. One VCM forms a team to support them while going house to house during campaigns. To date 4.4 million children under the age of 5 have been vaccinated.

“Trust and influence in the community is definitely a factor in recruiting and selecting people for the VCM role,” UNICEF Chief of Polio & C4D Dr. Anis Siddique says of volunteers working with the polio eradication programme. “Each VCM is responsible for 350-500 households in her community.” During national immunization days, a VCM visits every household in her zone.

VCMs work alongside teams who perform vaccinations. Community access and influence make VCMs the key to delivering polio vaccinations and other health guidance. “Being a local lady, she has leverage,” Dr. Siddique told us. “She introduces the vaccination team to the household, keeps records of who’s there, who’s missing and who refuses vaccination for any reason. She’s also the one who takes refusals and other concerns up with community leaders.”

Volunteers are now using their influence to surface and resolve vaccine concerns in their communities. These communities have increasingly shown that they are eager to learn and adapt from the trainings provided by the VCMs, whose networks also continue to expand to and within previously un-reached communities. Volunteers are uniquely able to leverage their trust and large numbers to reach every single household and stamp out every last incident of polio to make the aspiration of a polio-free Nigeria a reality.

To see how this network is growing, read the full story here.

Follow #VolunteersForEveryChild to see how volunteer-power continues to deliver results for UNICEF programmes.