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Two drops in the desert

By Esther Shisoka

“Not all my children are completely vaccinated. Our constant movement from one place to another did not allow me to vaccinate my older children.” Nahissa is a 33 years old mother of 8 children. She currently lives in Amir nomadic camp in Mandelia in the Chari-Baguirmi region of Chad.

Nomadic populations of Chad are vulnerable to diseases because of their constant mobility which limits their access to healthcare services. Reaching them with routine immunization has proven difficult. This challenge has called for the need of innovative strategies to reach this marginalized group of the Chadian population.

“Four years ago our government started offering us vaccination services for our children, every time they came to vaccinate our animals. This is how I was able to completely vaccinate my two younger children.” Nahissa said, proudly.

Coupling of vaccination and veterinary campaigns has proven very successful to immunize hard-to reach communities. The implementation of several joint campaigns ensured a complete course of vaccination of children in one year only.

“ I lost one of my children because he fell ill and died. I don’t want to lose any others. The health agents who came to vaccinate our children explained to us that vaccines protect our children from certain diseases like measles, whooping cough and polio. This is why I have accepted to have my children vaccinated every time there is a polio campaign. Some members of the community are still skeptical about vaccines but I try to explain to them why it is important.”

Nahissa’s story hints to the solution for reaching marginalized nomadic children. Offering vaccination services linked to other health interventions like the distribution of vitamin A, selling of insecticide-treated mosquito nets, and deworming and malaria treatments of children might be the best way of achieving equitable, sustainable, and high-coverage immunization for every child in Chad.

On March 25, the Ministry of Public Health, in close collaboration with UNICEF and WHO launched a new polio immunization campaign targeting 4.2 million children aged 0-5 years. In Chad, between 2010 and 2016, 51 polio immunization campaigns were organized to reach every child. In the vast territory of Chad, more than 5,000 social mobilizers and more than 25,000 vaccinators were involved in each national campaign More than 154 million doses of vaccines were used throughout the period.

The current vaccination campaign is part of a synchronized program in 13 African countries aiming to end polio on 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 US Fudnd, 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.