Working to Combat Polio in Democratic Republic of Congo

“I have always been afraid that my baby daughter could be attacked by polio – because of all these displacements she was not fully vaccinated. Today my soul is comforted,” said Sylvie, a local mother from Walikale Territory in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). “I have seen other children disabled and I did not want this to happen to my child.”

Sylvie’s one-year-old daughter Nyota received the vaccine from an International Medical Corps Polio Vaccinator who visited her home as part of the ‘house to house’ Polio Eradication campaign in the outskirts of Kanganbili Town in North Kivu Province. Nyota was born at home in the remote village of Nyalusukula where her family lived after being displaced by the conflict in Walikale. Six months after she was born her parents returned to Kanganbili. Displacement makes it difficult for children to be fully immunized for polio as it requires multiple doses.

Coordinated by the DRC Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, the polio vaccination campaigns in DRC were designed to eradicate the polio virus which re-emerged in the country in April 2008. The 2012 campaign follows the identification of new cases of wild polio virus in DRC, despite previous vaccination campaigns.

With generous funding from USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, International Medical Corps trained 100 community health workers (CHWs) in Walikale and Itebero health zones since January of this year to support the campaigns. These International Medical Corps-trained CHWs now conduct the vaccinations with government and International Medical Corps staff shadowing their efforts. CHWs work tirelessly even in highly insecure areas to ensure that children are reached with this critical vaccine.

In the hopes of declaring DRC a polio-free country in 2015, the DRC Ministry of Health with support from International Medical Corps and donors including UNICEF, the World Health Organization, CDC, GAVI and Rotary International, expects to vaccinate 58,800 children under five. Last year three successive rounds of the polio immunization were carried out – the second round in 2012 is currently being conducted. The repetition of the polio vaccination campaign is part of a goal set by the government to stop the spread of the virus. With support from International Medical Corps, a comprehensive awareness campaign is also underway across Walikale to urge parents and guardians of children under five to get the vaccine.

“These campaigns will continue until DRC is declared polio-free and all children are safe from polio,” said Dr. Papi Salumu, ‘Chef de Zone Sanitaire’ of Walikale. “The polio vaccine is safe and even sick children can be vaccinated.”

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