It’s been more than two years since the last polio case was reported in Côte d’lvoire. Time enough for people to become complacent about immunizations. But that would be a mistake – a potentially deadly mistake.
“The public sometimes doesn’t understand why, after so many rounds of polio immunization, they are still being asked to bring their children to the immunization post,” says Marie-Irène Richmond-Ahoua, chair of Rotary’s National PolioPlus Committee in Côte d’lvoire.
As a long-time advocate for polio eradication, Richmond-Ahoua knows you can’t let up against this tenacious and crippling disease. With Nigeria one of three remaining polio-endemic countries, the possibility of fresh outbreaks in Côte d’lvoire is a constant threat. The only way to keep the poliovirus out of the country are regular immunizations of all children under age five.
During National Immunization Days (NIDs) in April, thousands of volunteers and health workers, together with Rotary and Rotaract members, canvassed the streets throughout the country in search of children to immunize. They traveled from house to house knocking on doors in shantytowns and rural villages. But gaining entrance to these homes required another round of convincing.
“Côte d’lvoire has just experienced a conflict and people are still cautious. They don’t want to open their door to just anyone,” says Richmond-Ahoua. But once they see the polio T-shirts and hats that Rotary clubs supply to identify vaccinators, she says they feel safe opening their doors.
Communication is also key to mobilizing public support. Rotary members use the media, television, radio, and even griots, African tribal storytellers, to encourage participation in immunizations. As a result, 7.5 million children received two drops of oral polio vaccine, along with vitamin A supplements and de-worming tablets, during the NIDs.
Supplementary immunization campaigns like this one are part of the comprehensive 2013-18 Polio Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan. The plan outlines what is needed to eradicate all polio disease by 2018. In June the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a new fundraising agreement with Rotary. If successful, the campaign, which matches donations two-to-one (up to $35 million per year), will help raise $525 million for polio eradication.
“Polio eradication is not an option, it’s an obligation,” Richmond-Ahoua says. “When you consider what’s been done in Côte d’lvoire, despite the many obstacles we’ve faced, you are deeply convinced that polio will soon be eradicated.”