2 April, 2013 – In the village of Koudougou, in western Chad, hundreds of livestock owners have built temporary shelters. In search of new grazing, this community has moved their herds from village to village, and will soon move on once more. Beyond the reach of traditional health services, this community usually misses out on supplementary immunization services as well. Yet this time the vaccination teams have found them, and 10-month-old Adam has just received a dose of polio vaccine for the first time.
“I was even not aware about this campaign. We are permanently moving from a point to another one, this is why we rarely get medicines and vaccines. We do not even have access to water,” Maka Issa, 26, her mother, said.
In Chad, the mobility of nomadic populations leads to difficulties in reaching them with health services. Estimated at 350,000 people across the country, nomadic populations are not systematically reached either by supplementary immunization days or by routine immunization services. Furthermore, analysis of polio cases in Chad has shown that nomadic children are disproportionately affected by this crippling disease– a sure sign of low population immunity.
With the support of UNICEF, WHO and partners, the Chadian Government is seeking to remedy this, last week launching a country-wide polio immunization campaign, coupled with Vitamin A supplementation and de-worming tablets, with a special focus on nomadic populations. This combined campaign has targeted about 3.9 million children under the age of five across the country, and more than 9,600 additional community workers have been mobilized to ensure that all targeted children are reached, including nomadic children.
“We have set up new strategies to reach our nomadic populations. With their support, we already identified their movements in the region, and based on this information, it is easier for the vaccination teams to follow and reach them,” said Me Adoum Dangai Nokour Guet, the Governor of western Chad’s Lac Region.
This large combined campaign represents an important step forward for Chad in its agenda to accelerate child survival and development. Vitamin A supplementation and de-worming tablets are two high-impact interventions improving the nutritional status and health of children, and the polio vaccination programme is providing an avenue for these services to be provided to previously unreachable communities.
"This campaign responds to a concern for equity. We need to give every child the best start in life. UNICEF and its partners sought to provide help to these communities and develop strategies to find and immunize their children. This innovative effort with nomadic populations begins to yield results,” stated Bruno Maes, UNICEF Representative in Chad.
“The campaign will help consolidate gains made in polio eradication in Chad, where no cases have been reported since June 2012,” Mr Maes continued.
Chad has made tremendous progress towards the eradication of polio. The country recorded only five cases of polio in 2012 compared to the 132 cases in 2011, and its most recent case of wild poliovirus occurred more than nine months ago. Thanks to the continued commitment by the Government and its partners, the country is on its way to putting a stop to polio once more.
Although significant progress has been made, some fundamental concerns remain in the country. There is still a considerable number of missed children during each campaign. Child absence remains the main reason for these missed children, and continues to be a concern in three of the 19 regions where the proportion of missed children has increased over the last three supplementary immunization activities. Chad also remains affected by a cVDPV2 outbreak, with 13 cases reported since August 2012.
“This is a vital time for the polio eradication program in Chad. Its high level of commitment and drive cannot be let up. This year, the number of polio cases in Chad could still go either way. One new case of polio is one too many,” concluded Mr Maes.