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Fatuma Liban, a community mobilizer working in the fight against polio

UNICEF Somalia/2018/Farukh
© UNICEF Somalia/2018/Farukh
Fatuma Liban (right), a community mobilizer, looking at a polio vaccination campaign poster together with a colleague, with the Dolow camp in the background.

By Yasir Farukh, Communication for Development Specialist

Baidoa, Bay region, Somalia, 11 October 2018 – Fatuma Liban is one of the many unsung heroes in Somalia’s quest to protect all its children from polio. For the past 16 years, the 50-year-old has worked tirelessly, raising awareness about polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, and convincing parents that vaccination is the only way to keep their children safe from these killer viruses.

Somalia was polio-free for three years in a row, from 2014-2017. Then, in late 2017, the virus was found in a few regions particularly hard-hit by years of instability, drought and huge population movements. Bay was one of them. The region, particularly its capital Baidoa, hosts the most internally displaced people (IDP) in Somalia, second only to Banadir. More than 310,000 people, many of them displaced in the 2017 drought, are living in the 371 IDP camps in Baidoa, where conditions are appalling, and basic services are overstretched. Ensuring good vaccination coverage here is vital in stopping the spread of the polio virus.

Fatuma works in a camp called “Dolow” in Baidoa. As its name suggests, the camps’ residents are mostly from the town of Dolow, Gedo Region, some 200 kilometers north of Baidoa.

"I recommend parents bring their children to the nearby health facility to get vaccinated. I also tell them to always look for the finger mark on a child to see whether they are vaccinated,” says Fatuma about her work. For each round of vaccination, she visits all the households in the camp to inform the residents about timing of the campaign and why they need to let their children be vaccinated.

This work is not easy: some parents do not permit their children to be vaccinated. There are always new families coming to the camp, many of them from inaccessible areas where vaccination is little known, let alone understood. Using her great interpersonal communication skills, sometimes aided with songs, poems and drama, Fatuma has managed to succeed over and over again and gotten her job done.
Just recently, in July and August, she and her colleagues took part in the synchronized polio vaccination campaigns conducted in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia, resulting in 3.5 million children vaccinated. Moreover, monitoring reports show the work done by community mobilizers like Fatuma helped raised awareness of vaccination benefits to nearly 100 per cent among local populations.

On learning of the good news, Fatuma is proud of her contribution. But she is also acutely aware that there is still so much more to be done to make polio a distant memory.




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