The Fight to Make Nigeria Once Again Polio-Free

This post was written by Chizoba Unaeze Program Manager, International Medical Corps Nigeria . The International Medical Corps (IMC) is a non-profit international humanitarian organization dedicated to saving lives and alleviating suffering by providing emergency relief , health facilities and development programs for the poorest. . IMC is a member of the Global Health Council 2017.

A seven-day-old baby receives an oral polio vaccine in the Maiduguri district of Hausari. International Medical Corps, as part of a broader effort to eradicate polio in Nigeria, often targets baptism ceremonies, which take place a week in a child's life, to vaccinate the newborn and the other children present at the ceremony. Photo courtesy: International Medical Corps.

In August 2016, four children under the age of five were paralyzed as a result of wild poliovirus in the state of Borno, Nigeria. The resurgence of the disease occurs after more than two years without any poliovirus cases – a consequence of the seven-year-old Boko Haram insurgency, which fueled instability and displacement and left thousands of people out of reach of humanitarian aid.

Despite the security risks, International Medical Corps, in collaboration with local and international partners of the CORE Group Polio Project (CGPP), ensures that children are vaccinated against polio despite the considerable damage that the conflict has caused to health. system. Every month of Plus Days vaccination campaign, International Medical Corps and its local partners (AHIFF in Borno and CSADI in Kano) through social mobilization and home visits with vaccination teams in focal areas vaccinate over 180 000 children in the state of Borno and 85,000 in the state of Kano against poliomyelitis – according to the data call as collected and analyzed by the states' emergency operations centers .

Such a high number of vaccinations does not occur.

They are the result of careful planning, organization and coordination, all skills that require a variety of training programs. For example, we train supervisors in the use of smart phones to track project activities at the neighborhood and community level, how to use the registers filled out by volunteer community mobilizers – called VCMs – for s & # 39; ensure that no household is missed. VCMs also learn how to find and involve pregnant women and new mothers, how to encourage them to bring their children to vaccination sites for immunizations, and how to find and report young children with paralysis and polio.

As part of the CGPP consortium, trainers from the International Medical Corps also mentored and supported local staff and volunteers on ways to respond to community suspicions about vaccination campaigns – suspicions that could generate total resistance to vaccination.

Such an example occurred when residents of the community of a subunit of a district – called "Ward" – withstood the vaccination of their children against polio. During two subsequent monthly campaigns, residents did not allow any of their children to be vaccinated, which greatly increases the likelihood of children contracting polio.

In response, the local government formed a team with individuals from UNICEF, Rotary Club and International Medical Corps, as well as the local government health officer who met with health officials members of the local council and traditional religious. and other community leaders to engage in a dialogue to address the causes of resistance and alleviate concerns.

As this meeting progressed, it became clear that residents were unhappy with the importance that the outside authorities placed on the polio campaign when other long-ignored community needs remained. neglected. One resident pointed out that the community lacked basic services, including adequate health care, clean water and prevention of other diseases such as malaria and cholera that killed children. Others noted that the drugs were not available or too expensive to buy. They wanted to know why there were so many rounds of polio vaccinations in their area; why their basic health care needs have not been taken into account while external authorities have focused solely on polio.

The government-led team quickly found that the concerns expressed by the residents were sincere and should be treated honestly. The team has initiated a dialogue under the leadership of a local traditional leader, called Bulama, to resolve the complaints.

Once residents of the community were able to see their complaints processed, the resistance ended. With an agreed plan of action, a door-to-door polio vaccination campaign followed and reached all children in this community.

It has been more than a year since a case of polio was detected in Nigeria. I believe that if we continue to engage in dialogue, with explanations and persuasions from both sides, and vaccinate the communities, we will once again rid Nigeria of polio, one outbreak at a time, immunizing one child at a time.

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