Immunization campaign in Nigeria mobilizes a nation for child survival, village by village
By Geoffrey Njoku
Town announcer Saleh Karamami is making his rounds for child survival, rousing the residents of Karamami, Nigeria, as part of a national immunization campaign.
KANO STATE, Nigeria, 6 November 2013 – The man with the megaphone calls for mothers and fathers to bring their children for vaccinations. The message is a tinny monotone, repetitive, not unlike a call to prayer.
This town announcer is 62-year-old Saleh Karamami, who shares his surname with the village. He makes his rounds, hustling the villagers out of bed. He grabs the occasional unaccompanied child who is too close to oncoming traffic, and shepherds her or him across the street, safely to immunization.
Preparing for the campaign
Karamami ward is in Gabasawa Local Government Area of Kano State, northwest Nigeria. It is about an hour’s drive from the ancient city of Kano, a sprawling metropolis.
It is the first day of the national integrated measles campaign. UNICEF has been raising awareness for two weeks. Activities have included producing and broadcasting radio jingles, advocacy with key influencers to support the campaign and community mobilization through volunteers, religious leaders, ward heads – and town announcers like Mr. Karamami.
He’s done his rounds several times before today.
Rise and shine for vaccinations
Despite Mr. Karamami’s efforts, at 9:40 a.m., only 20 children have been vaccinated. The target for Day 1 at Karamami ward is 250 for measles and 320 for oral polio vaccine. So far, the start appears too slow, and Mr. Karamami is urged to intensify his announcements.
Sweating under the heat of the late morning sun, this town announcer is something of a vaccination veteran. He’s played the role a couple of times, for other immunization campaigns.
He is more than happy to oblige. “I have done this a couple of times before and people know me and listen to me,” he says.
“They entrust their children to me.”
Lofty goals for child survival
Measles is one of the leading illnesses of children under 5 years old in Nigeria. In the first three quarters of this year, nearly 50, 000 children were affected by the disease, nationwide. States with the highest number of cases include Kaduna, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara.
Most of the children Mr. Karamami helps to cross the road safely to the immunization post are under 5. The campaign aims to immunize all children under 5 in the country, rapidly. Nearly thirty million children are targeted.
The Government of Nigeria, through the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, is leading the exercise, supported by UNICEF, WHO, GAVI Alliance and other partners. This first phase of the campaign covers all the states in the north, including those with security concerns, such as Adamawa, Borno and Yobe.
UNICEF Representative Jean Gough leads the monitoring of Borno. “Our intention is to support the health teams, and make sure that the children are all vaccinated, and make sure that fear that the health workers are facing when they go out is removed, because I am here also with them,” she says.
Mr. Karamami rouses Karamami
Results will vary from one immunization post to another. Since Mr. Karamami stepped up his efforts, there has been a gradual increase in visits to the Karamami post. By the end of the day, Karamami ward will have reached its full target.
If Mr. Karamami’s success is repeated around the nation, the millions of children targeted will be reached. And there is hope that the town announcers’ efforts will be rewarded with a decline in measles cases in Nigeria.
Does the town announcer think his efforts contribute to success of the campaign? “I think so,” he says. “My children are all immunized, so when I tell them, they listen to me.”