Polio eradication: the volunteer community mobilizers network fully operational on the ground in Kebbi State, northern Nigeria
KEBBI (Nigeria), 7th May 2012 – Selected from their respective settlements (villages), 200 volunteer community mobilizers (covering 200 high risk settlements) are now fully operational in Kebbi State, in northern Nigeria. Their mission is to reduce the percentage of missed children through targeted house-to-house interventions to generate demand for and acceptance of oral polio vaccine.
These volunteers have been trained to work as “change agents” in the community and are responsible for house-to-house mobilization for polio and routine immunization and introduce some key household practices. They have started to identify and characterize the chronically missed children and non-compliant parents through community friendly approach. Interpersonal counselling on immunization and promotion of key household practices such as treatment of diarrhoea, prevention of malaria, breastfeeding carried out door-to-door and person-to-person form the core of the volunteers’ work.
“After the cascade trainings held over the past few weeks, volunteers’ work is now underway on the ground. Prior to the next immunization campaign in May, these volunteers are working on house-to-house micro census and house-to-house mobilization. Every volunteer is equipped with a pictorial flip book and monitoring tools,” said Naureen Naqvi, UNICEF Communication for Development Specialist.
Kebbi State is one of the most high risks states in Nigeria with persistent circulation of wild poliovirus that poses a serious challenge to polio eradication in the country. Fortunately, no new cases of wild poliovirus have been reported since July 2011. However, Kebbi has recorded eight cases in 2011 and a high proportion of eligible children continue to be missed in every Immunization Plus Days (9.7% in March 2012), especially in the Local Government Areas of Gwandu, Jega, Ngaski, Arewa Dandi, Suru, Birnin Kebbi, and Argungu.
‘Child absent’ remains the main reason for missed children accounting for 83% of the total number of missed children in Kebbi. The proportion of non-compliance as a reason for missed children has increased over the last two rounds from 5% in February to 8% in March 2012. Approximately 15% of the total number of refusals remains unresolved in the State.
“The volunteers will track every unimmunized child and every case of refusal of oral polio vaccine. Every volunteer is expected to be a catalyst for community participation in health programmes in her settlement. We are monitoring this initiative closely and hope it will bring rapid results in terms of reduction of missed children and refusals during the next campaign in May,” said Tommi Laulajainen, UNICEF Chief of Polio Communication in Nigeria.
In Kano State, 388 volunteers out of 557 were trained in March and are already on the ground. In this state, the initiative is covering 41 Local Government Areas, 245 Wards and 557 Settlements. According to the latest UNICEF data analysis, Kano has the highest proportion of missed children (9.8%) followed by Kebbi (9.7%). In 2011, this State has recorded 17 cases of wild poliovirus and 10 cases of circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2.
“The implementation of this initiative is more challenging in Kano due to the sheer number of villages and unimmunized children we need to track,” Laulajainen stated.
With the support of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Volunteer Community Mobilizers Network initiative will cover in a first phase three high-risk states – Kebbi, Kano and Sokoto. In a second phase, it will be expanded to the States of Zamfara, Jigawa, Katsina, Yobe and Borno. In total, over 2,150 settlement level volunteer mobilizers will be recruited, trained and deployed in the villages where missed children and refusals of oral polio vaccine are still persistent by end of July.