News / Africa

Senegalese Children Vaccinated Against Polio

Anne Look

Senegalese children were among the 85 million African children vaccinated against polio this week, as part of an international campaign to halt an ongoing wave of the disease in West and Central Africa.

Health workers went door-to-door this week in Joal, Senegal, about 100 kilometers outside the capital, Dakar.  They used droppers to give free oral polio vaccine to all children under five years old.

The campaign in Joal was part of a countrywide campaign to vaccinate the more than two million children under five in Senegal.  It is a campaign aimed at raising immunity as well as awareness.

Ibrahima Sakho and his wife had never heard of polio before their two-year-old son, Mamadou, was stricken with the life-threatening disease in early January.  Their son was the second case of polio reported in Senegal this year.

Sakho says he was in the Gambia working when his wife told him his son was scratching his back and was bedridden with a fever.  He says Mamadou was taken to a health center in Joal then transferred to a hospital in Dakar.  He says the first time he saw his son, Mamadou's arms and legs were paralyzed.  He says he was very worried because he did not know a disease could do that.

Two-months later, Mamadou can now slightly move his right leg and left arm.  His father says he has since learned how polio is spread and is urging other parents to vaccinate their children.

Senegal is one of nine West and Central African countries that have had polio outbreaks within the past six months.

This most recent polio threat can be traced to a 2008 outbreak in northern Nigeria that is moving westward.  Many of the affected countries, which had been polio free, became re-infected.

In a mass immunization campaign launched this week, the United Nations and international aid agencies aimed to vaccinate more than 85-million children under five against the polio virus in 19 countries across West and Central Africa.

UNICEF's Regional Communication Officer, Gaëlle Bausson, said this synchronized, multi-national campaign is just the first step eradicating polio.

"The second level of action is strengthening the health system so that every child gets systematically immunized when he has access to health care," said Gaëlle Bausson. "It is a much more complicated issue because you need to improve access to health care.  You need to improve health-care education so that people know that they should get their kid  to vaccination as a preventative measure not as a curative or an emergency measure to stop an outbreak."

Bausson said that education is key because, in the absence of an outbreak, people tend to forget about the disease and not immunize their children.

"For example, there has not been a case in Senegal for more than 20 years, so the level of information was quite low" said Bausson. "The population did not realize that it was still an issue and that it could hit anywhere at any point."

The Global Polio Eradication Campaign is spearheaded by national governments, UNICEF, the World Health Organization, Rotary International, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.   

The aid agencies plan a follow-up campaign in the same 19 countries on April 24.  

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