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Senegal: health workers strive to get vaccines to vulnerable children

© UNICEF/Senegal/2010/Shryock
After health workers administer a polio vaccine in Joal, Senegal, they mark the child’s hand to acknowledge she has been vaccinated.

Dakar, Senegal, 29 avril 2010 -In Senegal there are 2,562,825 children that UNICEF and its partners want to reach with the polio vaccine. 

But some of these children live with migratory families or on island villages, making them hard to reach. That is why during the third round of administering the vaccine on April 24, community health workers in the West African country focused on reaching these often hidden populations.

Instead of just going door-to-door, health workers set up tents in open public spaces and increased social mobilization campaigns with public announcements on television, radio and more.

Migratory populations
Dr. Djariatou Sow Sall, UNICEF Senegal’s health specialist, says the migratory populations who go from villages to cities are some of the hardest people to reach when hoping to vaccinate an entire country.

"Many people who are not from Dakar don’t go to the health centers to get vaccines," she says. "There are cultural and economic barriers to reaching them."

Mamadou Sakho was part of that migratory population, and the 2-year-old had never been vaccinated. In January he contracted polio—the second child in Senegal to catch the devastating disease.

As of the end of April, 16 cases had been reported in 2010 in Senegal alone.

The national campaign is part of a regional effort in West Africa as part of the Joint Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), which is helping children across the region.

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

Mobilized health workers

The vaccination campaign mobilizes health workers who go door-to-door vaccinating children under five years old free-of-charge.

Reaching children can be difficult when families live on remote islands such as the Senegalese who live on small islands along the coast near the Fatick region.

To vaccinate these children, community health workers take boats out to the villages. In the district of Foundiougne alone, there are more than 20 small islands the workers must reach.

The country’s coast also means a higher population of migrant fishermen, and their families are often vulnerable because they are constantly on the move, adds Dr. Sow.

Also, the women who work in the fields live in villages during Senegal’s rainy season, but move to towns and cities during the dry season to look for other work.

Part of that migrant population involves an estimated 2 million hard-to-reach Guineans. So officials have organized meetings with leaders of the Guinean community to help communicate the children’s urgent need for the vaccine.

Because no matter what language the message is in, it is an important one.

By Ricci Shryock



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