By Laura Jepsen, Project Reporting & Communications Officer, International Medical Corps
June 25, 2013— With 130 reported polio cases—the highest number in the world—and the second highest rate of unvaccinated children in the world, Chad faces a critical public emergency. International Medical Corps has been working in eastern Chad since 2004, providing emergency medical relief, including primary and secondary health care, nutritional support and capacity building to help build sustainable recoveries.
With funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and in close collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, International Medical Corps supported the Ministry of Health’s polio eradication activities in Chad’s districts of Iriba, AmDam and Guereda. The project focused on three key objectives: (1) to improve availability of the polio vaccine and immunization services in eastern Chad; (2) to increase community resilience to disease outbreaks – including polio – through knowledge and local capacity building; (3) to strengthen the capacity of the Ministry of Health to deliver better immunization services and implement active and passive polio surveillance activities.
International Medical Corps, during the year-long project, supported four mass polio vaccination campaigns. International Medical Corps’ role was to ensure that targeted households and children were effectively being reached. This consisted of providing logistical support and volunteers for community sensitizations before and during campaigns; the distribution of vaccines; and planning support at the supported health centers.
According to independent monitoring conducted by the WHO, coverage for all the campaigns exceeded 95%. This can be attributed to the engagement of key community actors, such as community leaders, teachers and religious leaders; door-to-door awareness raising before and during campaigns; and the 20 “Model Mother Groups” that educated approximately 1,000 parents on immunization activities and the myths surrounding polio vaccinations. Furthermore, farming activities in the project areas hindered immunization efforts, as parents did not have the time to bring their children for vaccination. To overcome this challenge, International Medical Corps instigated “defaulter tracing,” through which vaccinators sought out families in their fields to vaccinate targeted children, which helped to reduce the number of unvaccinated children significantly.
Additionally, in order to improve the availability of polio vaccines for the target population, International Medical Corps supported two accelerated routine polio immunization campaigns in addition to the four mass polio campaigns. As a result, an additional 2,000 children who had not had the opportunity to be vaccinated were reached for the first time.