It is an important day for Hawa and Adam, new-born twins. Tradition says that children are to be baptised and therefore, given a name, on the seventh day after their birth. And the day has arrived for these new-borns.
In the middle of the laughs and clapping, we stand here, with a special gift on our hands. Out of coincidence, we witnessed this ceremony the day we visited the village with the polio vaccination team.
Hawa and Adam are lucky babies. Their mother Gamoussou has never spared efforts for the health of her children. “All my children are vaccinated, even the older ones” she told us with a smile, “including my oldest child who is now 17.” A practice that is quite exceptional in that respect, since, only 25% of children in Chad are fully immunised.
Two drops, this simple life-saving gesture, is indeed not always common, and even more so among the hard-to-reach families, who very often do not have access to vaccination and information on vaccination. Gamousso, for example, used to travel all the way to the health center of Tongole, which is 15 km far away from her village – a more than 2 hours trip with pirogue – for healthcare when she was living in Djaluwa, one of the islands of the Lake.
In recent years, with the conflict in Lake Chad and the subsequent insecurity and widespread displacement, access to some communities has been even more difficult. The polio outbreak in 2016 in the Borno state of the bordering Nigeria has however reminded of the upmost importance of immunizing all children, starting especially with those in humanitarian and displacement contexts.
Gamousso, who fled the threats of Boko Haram and is now living in Dabantchali on the shore of Lake Chad, recognized that vaccination has never been as easy as today with the door-to-door visit of the immunization team. The Chadian Government has indeed put in all the efforts to keep a Chad polio-free for all groups and populations.
In close collaboration with UNICEF and WHO, the Ministry of Health has organized 5 polio immunization campaigns since the beginning of the year, mobilizing more than 8,000 social mobilizers and 16,000 vaccinators. More than 4.4 million children under 5 have been immunized.
With campaigns making sure that nomads, refugees and displaced communities are not left behind, knowledge and attitudes are progressively changing, giving us hope that soon new-born ceremonies, as the one of Hawa and Adam today, will be more and more a celebration of healthy practices to give babies the best start in life.
In 2017, the Ministry of Public Health, in close collaboration with UNICEF and WHO launched 5 polio immunization campaigns targeting 4.2 million children aged 0-5 years.
The current vaccination campaign is part of a synchronized programme in 13 African countries aiming to end polio in the continent. More than 190,000 vaccinators will vaccinate more than 116 million children to eradicate the disease in Africa.
Chad’s polio eradication efforts are made under the umbrella of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) enabling organizations on the ground such as UNICEF and WHO to effectively support the Government’s efforts. 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) play a key role in financing polio eradication interventions.