By: Susan Onyango and Katherine Mueller, IFRC
Somalilandsun – When one case of the wild poliovirus type one surfaced in Somaliland earlier this year, the Somali Red Crescent Society sprang into action, working together with the Ministry of Health and other partners to prevent the further spread of the disease.
“As long as one child remains infected, every child in the country remains at risk,” said Kwame Darko, health delegate at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Somali delegation. “That’s why it is imperative that we get into every small village and community, to conduct immunizations and ensure the virus does not spread.”
Polio is a highly contagious viral infection that tends to attack mostly children under the age of five, pregnant women, those with weak immune systems, and those who have not been immunized. The virus enters the body through the mouth, invades the nervous system, and can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours. Initial symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness in the neck and pain in the limbs.
As part of its emergency response, the Somali Red Crescent Society deployed 90 volunteers to carry out a campaign to ensure that as many children as possible received polio immunization. They made door-to-door visits to sensitize parents on the benefits of immunization. “Many people believe that taking the vaccine can lead to infertility,” said Hassan Abdi Jama, Deputy National Health Officer at the society’s Somaliland coordination office. “It is our responsibility to change that belief and to convince parents of the benefits of having their children immunized.”
“We met one family in Hudan district who had eight children, three of them under five,” said Mrs Saynab, a health field officer. “Their father had refused to have them immunized. I sat with him privately, and explained the reasons why immunization is so important. Two hours later, he was convinced and all of his children were vaccinated.”
The nine mobile clinic teams which took part in the immunization campaign managed to convince 56 sets of parents to have their children vaccinated, after they had initially refused.
The five-day campaign saw 3,450 children receive polio immunization through the mobile clinics. Of these, 140 had not been vaccinated in previous rounds.
“I worked with my team in the north of Gabiley district. The areas were very difficult to access as they were mountainous and remote,” said Shugri Nuur Fahiye, the society’s mobile health clinic team leader. “Indeed it was tiresome, but what encouraged me was that if we were not there, these children would not have the opportunity to be vaccinated against polio. The communities were helpful and collaborated with us throughout the vaccination days.”
Despite the success of the campaign, another round of vaccinations will be needed, as the poliovirus managed to spread before immunizations began. As of 28 September, there were 174 confirmed cases across the country.
The National Society is teaming up with the IFRC and other national and international partners to fight the spread of the virus. Plans include sending Red Crescent teams into communities to continue educating parents about the benefits of immunization, coordinate planning and mapping of areas in need, and supporting other immunization activities.