The uncommon bravery, energy and dedication, with which two young volunteer vaccinators threw themselves into a recent polio vaccination campaign in the high-risk area of Lake Chad, shows the kind of commitment that has kept Chad polio-free since July 2016.
Retaining the polio-free status requires constant surveillance, as well as regular vaccination campaigns like the four-day campaign organised in the Lake Chad islands and the Bol Health District, between 30 October to 02 November 2018. Vaccinators Joël Keinneng and Nahomie Kor-Alyen, wasted no time in getting their campaign underway.
Their target villages were all on islands, some of which are floating. But there was no boatman or navigator available to take them. So, on 31 October Joël and Nahomie paddled a pirogue themselves for 12 kilometres, to get them from the village health centre in Ngorerom on one island to the village of Reria on another, to carry out that day’s door-to-door vaccination programme.
Not only are the islands difficult to access, due to many grasses and weeds, but there is also the danger of encountering Boko Haram activity. Many would not have undertaken such a journey, but the pair say they are passionate about serving communities in Chad.
Nahomie tells us that at 18-years of age she harbours the ambition to become a doctor, but she still has three years to go before she can complete her baccalaureate and start university. Joël is 26 years of age and has been vaccinating since he was 19. He is also a polio surveillance volunteer. Joël and Nahomie are themselves lake dwellers. They live in the island village of Dosselom, a 1km crossing by pirogue to the health centre in the town of Bol.
The lake is a high-risk area for polio because it is open to four countries – Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria – and it experiences frequent transfrontier population movements, including refugees and returnees fleeing from Boko Haram attacks.
Confirmed cases of polio in recent years in the neighbouring Borno State of Nigeria, are also a cause for concern (6 cases in 2017; and 5 by end-August 2018).
Because of the difficulty of accessing the islands, and the nomadic life of many island dwellers, many children in this high-risk area have not yet been vaccinated. For all these reasons the supplemental vaccination campaigns such as this are necessary.
During their vaccination programme on the lake island of Reria on 31 October, Joël and Nahomie vaccinated 152 children under 10 years of age. In all, they visited 172 households. During their door-to-door visits they also informed 192 women and 142 men about the benefits of vaccinating children.
UNICEF supports the polio vaccination campaign by supplying the vaccines and by working in partnership with the WHO’s information campaigns and logistical support. The campaign in the Lake Chad area is financed by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), of which the major contributors are the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Rotary Foundation.
Writer: Fulbert Ngamargue