By Davy Takendjilembaye
One morning, Noah Barmi woke up with leg pain. He was only 2. Every day, the pain was stronger. Noah and his family lived in a remote community in Southern Chad. At that time, his parents could only find one explanation: their son was bewitched.
Nahomie Habede is working at the Kelo health center, a little town in Southern Chad: « In some communities, especially in the 2000s, the vaccine against polio was seen as a poison to harm children. If a child was sick, people would directly accuse witches, but when polio knocks on your door, it’s tough to escape. Now it’s us, the community volunteers, who knock on the doors of parents to raise awareness and get them to immunize their children to eradicate this disease for good! «
Noah saw several traditional healers, but the pain got worse and worse. His mother, Marie Blouka describes this moment with an hesitant voice and shifty eyes: « After giving birth, I had problems with my husband. I went to live my parents in the bush, and I did not go back to the health center to immunize my child. It’s that short distance from the house to the health center that keeps my son to walk today. «
Paralyzed by polio, Noah is 7 today. Despite his disability, he plays with his siblings and friends under the mango tree that provides shade to their house, located outside the city of Kelo. He always moves with his wooden crutches: « I have to use crutches for any movement, it takes lots of efforts, especially when I go to school. I have difficulties to do certain things, but I’m getting by, » he said, smiling.
« I am sad to see him play with these crutches when other children can jump and run everywhere. The life of my child could have been so different, » regrets Marie. “Noah’s mother is very committed to raise awareness in the community. She encourages mothers to vaccinate their children. She’s just telling her personal story, lots of people change their minds afterwards » concludes Nahomie.
Thanks to the engagement of the Chadian government, backed by committed donor support and through close collaboration with UNICEF and WHO, the country was able to eradicate polio in a relatively short period of time.
In 2011, the country had reached an all-time high of 132 new cases. Between 2012 and 2015, more than 3 million children under 5 were reached through national and sub-national immunization days, resulting in 85 per cent of Chadian children immunized with at least three doses of oral polio vaccine. National and localized immunization campaigns were held across the vast Chadian territory and involved more than 8,000 social mobilizers and 9,000 vaccinators per campaign on average, to reach millions of children.
Chad’s polio eradication effort was made under the umbrella of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) and involved many partners. The European Union, the Governments of Japan, Canada and the United States, as well as global partners such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, GAVI Alliance, the Rotary International and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) played a key role in financing polio eradication interventions.