In Chad, reaching refugees from the Central African Republic with polio vaccine
By Cindy Cao
From 15 to 17 March 2013, UNICEF contributed to a national campaign conducted in Chad that aimed to provide polio vaccine, deworming medication and vitamin A tablets. Reducing child mortality is a major priority for Chad and UNICEF, both of which place special emphasis on vulnerable populations such as refugees.
BELOM SITE, Chad, 28 March 2013 – Vitkoua Charlotte fled the Central African Republic on foot with her husband and a few of her children. She carried the children on her shoulders across a river, from the Central African Republic to Chad. Once in Chad, they waited for a UNHCR truck, which brought them to the Belom site, about 30 km from the border.
Ms. Vitkoua and her family are part of a large influx of refugees from conflict in the Central African Republic who have arrived in Chad and settled in Belom site in March. Humanitarian aid is being provided by United Nations agencies and NGOs.
Every day, trucks full of refugees pull up at the site. Refugees who arrived earlier run towards the trucks, looking for their parents, children, other relatives.
“I fled the war,” says Ms. Vitkoua. “This is why you see me here. I arrived a week ago. Here, we get some help such as soap or clothes. For the moment, my children and I, we find food. This is better compared to our suffering before.”
At the Belom site, the family meet community relays, who are volunteers for the Red Cross and are financially supported by UNICEF. The community relays work with families in the context of a national campaign to provide polio vaccine, deworming medication and vitamin A tablets.
Allaissem Jean-Baptiste, a community relay wearing a Red Cross t-shirt, discusses how the community relays approach families: “We go from household to household to inform them that vaccinators will come by. It is true that we all have the same rights to health. It is important to deal with refugees because we are nationals. If we do not take care of them, there could be problems between us and the refugees.”
Strong bonds between nationals and refugees are important to ensure the success of the campaign. New refugees and refugees who arrived years ago on Belom site also work together.
Brother who has knowledge
Mr. Allaissem sits among Ms. Vitkoua’s family and tells her that vaccinators will come and that is important to immunize her children.
“There are people like us who are ignorant,” says Ms. Vitkoua. “If a brother who has knowledge can help us, I can only say thank you. Thank you to those who inform us.”
The vaccinator, Basset Ayba, is a refugee from the Central African Republic, herself. She arrived five years ago. She explains, while she attends to Ms. Vitkoua’s son, “We give the vaccine against polio to avoid paralysis of the limbs. Vitamin A helps maintain sight of children and give them the appetite.
“I'm happy,” she adds. “I’m so happy that refugee children can regularly receive vaccines. May God give you the strength to continue to give us vaccines!”
Before he moves on to another family, Mr. Allaissem helps Ms. Vitkoua’s children say, as a game: “We have the same rights as all other children! We have the same rights as all other children! We have the same rights as all other children!”