Rotarians help reignite Nigeria’s end-polio effort
Nigeria PolioPlus Committee Chair Busuyi Onabolu (second from left) and District 9120 PolioPlus Subcommittee Chair Godwin Atiah (far left) join state health officials in Kano for the ceremony officially launching the country's Immunization Plus Days. Rotary Images/Joseph Lorenzo
Rotarians in Nigeria are playing a key role in their country's revitalized battle to become polio-free, including helping to overcome resistance from families who are against having their children immunized.
During Immunization Plus Days (IPDs) held 31 January-3 February, a community in Nasarawa State initially refused vaccination efforts because the government hadn't removed garbage from a local dump.
"In order to get the kids immunized, I promised to clear the site personally, if they allowed us to carry out the immunization, and they agreed," said Chuks Anthony Anyigbo, a member of the Rotary Club of Lafia City. "I partnered with the state urban development board, [and] they gave me a truck with a few staff. I paid for logistics and laborers, then mobilized some Rotarians and youth to clear the site."
When families in a group of settlements in Katsina State opposed immunization, Rotarians immediately helped conduct a community dialogue. Residents said they would not allow their children to receive the oral polio vaccine because other pressing needs -- health care, clean water, and education -- weren't being met. Local officials addressed these issues at a subsequent meeting, resulting in 120 children being immunized with the residents' consent.
In Anambra State, the Rotary Club of Awka aired public service announcements on state radio and sponsored community-based town criers to urge mothers to bring their children to immunization posts. During the IPDs, no cases of noncompliance were reported there.
"Mothers were eager to have their children immunized," said Awka club member Chika Ekwueme. "Large numbers of children were immunized in churches and schools."
Rotarians in Enugu State helped monitor the IPDs and handed out soap, school supplies, and other premiums to children who were immunized. They also hired vehicles to transport the vaccination teams and provided snacks, water, and soft drinks.
One of the keys to ending polio in Nigeria is accountability, according to Nigeria PolioPlus Committee Chair Busuyi Onabolu. Noting that "operational challenges have compromised the quality of vaccination campaigns," he said that renewed state and local government commitment to immunization has led to marked progress in many areas.
The Jigawa State government, for example, has strengthened top-level monitoring of immunization efforts by posting a senior supervisor in each of the state's 288 wards. Each supervisor is being held accountable for any ward irregularities. As a result, ownership of the polio eradication effort is increasing at all levels of government in Jigawa. In addition, special immunization teams have been created to reach children in Quranic schools.
Nigeria is also one of eight West African countries participating in synchronized Subnational Immunization Days aimed at reaching 53 million children. The first round took place 27 February-2 March; the second is scheduled for 27-30 March. More than 162,000 trained health care workers and volunteers in the region are carrying out the massive effort in schools and clinics, as well as going door to door.
"The plan is to reach every child, even in the most rural areas [and] in the most populated urban areas," says UNICEF spokeswoman Miranda Eeles. "The campaign aims at reaching a critical mass of polio immunization coverage in order to stop the spread of the wild poliovirus."
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