By Ndiaga Seck
BUKAVU, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 9 May 2011 – Severine Nabintu, 35, brought her six-month old child to the launch two weeks ago of a national immunization campaign against polio in South Kivu province in DR Congo. “I’ve brought my child to vaccinate him and protect him from polio,” she said.
The campaign aims to vaccinate 23 million children under the age of five across the country. DR Congo has stepped up efforts after 100 cases of the wild polio virus were registered in 2010. There have already been 46 cases so far this year. Infections are on the rise among adults too, particularly in the capital, Kinshasa.
“Polio was the disease of children under five,” said Richard Letshu, Head of the World Health Organization’s sub-office in South Kivu. “But since the last trimester of 2010, we’ve seen adult cases.”
The rise in cases among adults is as a result of transmission from neighbouring Congo Brazza, according to the World Health Organization. To combat the recent polio upsurge in the region, similar three-day national polio immunization campaigns were organized in Angola and Congo Brazza.
At the Bukavu launch in DR Congo, the Governor of South Kivu, Marcellin Cishambo Rohuya, implored the community to get their children vaccinated against the wild polio virus. “We should welcome vaccinators who will go from door to door for three days to vaccinate our children,” he said.
The first round of the campaign aimed to vaccinate 1 million children in South Kivu in eastern DR Congo. Prior to the official launch, educators went door-to-door to spread the message in Ksawahili, the predominant local language.
They were helped by members of the local community, who were already aware of the importance of protecting against the virus. “I tell other women in my neighbourhood to vaccinate their children under the age of five,” says Mama Eugenie, a mother of seven who lives on the outskirts of Bukavu.
These local community members and educators often come up against prejudices. “Some people believe this campaign is meant for something else, but not to protect from polio,” explained Jackson Cizungu, a social mobilizer in the residential district of Kadutu in Bukavu. “I tell them that it is the child’s right to be immunized against polio, and the parents’ responsibility to ensure that children are vaccinated.”
To combat such concerns, Governor Rohuya received his polio drops in public. In order to ensure the success of the immunization campaign, UNICEF has been working closely with partners to reach the most vulnerable people and remote areas.
“We are working in close collaboration with our partner, the Ministry of health, which is responsible for implementing the vaccination programme,” said Cecilia Enohmbi Saleh, UNICEF Chief Field Officer in South Kivu.
Funding for the $10 million April vaccination campaign came from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, USAID, Rotary International, UK Department for International Development, Japan, Germany and UNICEF. The second round of the campaign is scheduled from 26 to 28 May.