“I have always been afraid that my son could be attacked by polio because he was not fully vaccinated but today my fear is comforted,” said Rebecca, a 22-year-old mother of a baby boy. “I have seen other children disabled and being sad for life [affected] by polio, and I did not want this to happen to my child.”
Rebecca couldn’t have been happier when her one-year-old son, Peter, received the vaccine from an International Medical Corps-supported Polio Vaccinator who visited her home as part of the ‘House to House’ Polio Eradication Campaign.
Peter was born at home in the small village of Thowat, where his family lived after being displaced by the brutal war in South Sudan. Two months after he was born, his parents returned to Akobo, a remote town where the family originally lived. For families like Peter’s, it is vital that health workers are able to reach them in the home since clinics are often great distances away in the rural region which was affected by the war.
Lacking a known cure, polio was largely eradicated through the World Health Organization (WHO)-supported Global Polio Eradication Initiative established in 1988. As a result of mass immunization campaigns, polio has decreased by 99 percent worldwide since 1988. However, from 2009-2010, 23 previously polio-free countries were re-infected due to imports of the virus from polio-endemic countries.
The polio vaccination campaigns being coordinated by the Government of Southern Sudan’s Ministry of Health (MoH), WHO and UNICEF are designed to eradicate the polio virus in South Sudan. The last case was reported by MOH/International Medical Corps in Jonglei State and confirmed by WHO in May 2009.
With support from International Medical Corps, an intensive awareness campaign has been launched across Jonglei State with parents and guardians being urged to have children under-five fully vaccinated. In 2011, five successive rounds of the polio immunization were carried out by our teams in conjunction with MoH and WHO.
“These campaigns will continue until Southern Sudan is declared polio-free and all children are safe from polio,” said Chot Biel Ger, the active and ever smiling WHO Polio Field Supervisor in Akobo. “The polio vaccine is safe and even sick children can be vaccinated.”
In the hopes of declaring South Sudan a ‘polio-free’ country by 2013, the MoH with, support from several donors (UNICEF, WHO, CDC, GAVI, and Rotary International) and with the strong and active support of International Medical Corps and the County Health Department, aim to vaccinate 58,800 children under-five by the end of December 2011.