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Joint Global Polio Eradication Initiative aims to eliminate polio in Senegal

© UNICEF/Senegal/2010/Shryock
A child under five years old receives a polio vaccination from a team of workers going door-to-door in towns throughout Senegal.

Dakar, Senegal, 7 March 2010 - When Mamadou Sakho fell ill, neither his mother nor father knew what was ailing the two-year-old.

They took him to the nearest hospital, but the doctors there said they needed to take Mamadou to Dakar—the capital of Senegal—more than two hours away.

Mamadou’s father, Ibrahima Sakho, is a fisherman, and the family could not afford to make the trip on their own.

Eventually a friend gave them a ride to Dakar, where doctors diagnosed the young boy with an illness neither of his parents had heard of before, but one that is life-threatening—polio.

Mamadou was the second case of polio in the beginning of 2010 in Senegal, and because his parents had never even heard of the disease, the child had not been vaccinated.

It is because of cases like Mamadou that UNICEF supports the Joint Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI).

The World Health Organization along with national governments, Rotary International and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also spearheaded the GPEI, which has launched a campaign to vaccinate children in West Africa and stop the spread of this disease.

Vaccinations for all
The vaccination campaign is mobilized in places like Joal, Senegal, where teams go out with vaccinations and knock on doors to see if children ages 0 to five have had the proper vaccination.

In neighborhoods such as Fadiouth in Joal, three women who live in the area, went door to door with the vaccine, giving it free of charge to children who had not yet received the prevention treatment.

One mother of seven said she was so grateful for the vaccinations, because the health of her children is the most important thing to her.

As the workers dropped medicine into her daughter’s mouth, she added she tries to get all the vaccinations necessary.

After vaccinating the three youngest children in the household, the workers marked the door with a purple chalked V, which helps them keep track of households vaccinated.

Each family also has yellow vaccinations cards for their children, and the health workers also keep track in their files.

Regional efforts are mobilized
The campaign in Joal is part of a countrywide campaign that aims to vaccinate the 2.2 million children under five in Senegal. As part of the effort, 12,700 vaccinators have been mobilized to go door-to-door.

Nineteen countries have synchronized their efforts in an attempt to stop the polio outbreaks in West and Central Africa. More than 400,000 volunteers and health workers in all will take part in the campaign.

Road to Recovery
From the 6th to the 9th of March, there were 48 vaccination teams working in and around the area where Mamadou lives, said Dr. Joseph Barboza, the Chief Doctor at Joal’s hospital.

Mamadou was the second case in Senegal in 2010. Before those two young boys, Senegal’s last known polio case was in 1998, said Dr. Barboza.

"Our hope is that with these vaccination attempts, we can stop the transmission," he added.

For now, Mamadou rests in a small hospital room in Fann Hospital in Dakar.

His room is purple, and he sleeps most of the day. He can slightly move his right leg and his left arm, but he still cannot walk.

His mother was in a state of confusion when they arrived at the hospital nearly two months ago, because neither she nor his father had ever heard of polio before.

Now, Mamadou’s father says he understands how the disease is transmitted, and he urges other parents to vaccinate their children. He also remains hopeful that his youngest son will soon recover.

By Ricci Shryock



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