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US Tennis Star Assists Ghana Vaccination Campaign

U.S. tennis star Serena Williams is visiting Ghana, where she joined volunteers and health workers giving children vaccines against measles and other diseases. Efam Dovi filed this VOA report from the Ghanaian capital, Accra.

Hundreds of mothers with babies, and curious children and adults, turned out at this vaccination center, one of 95,000 across the country. Serena Williams winced, as she watched as health workers administered vaccines to children five years and younger. "I hate shots," said Williams.

UNICEF Ghana's chief of health and nutrition, Mark Young, explained the process of administering polio vaccine. "Polio is just given in drops, two drops, is not by injection, an oral polio [vaccine]," he explained.

The two time Wimbledon champion was offered a bowl of water to wash her hands, after which she administered oral polio vaccine to babies.

Serena Williams said it is humbling to see all the children coming to be vaccinated. "I just feel that I have been blessed so much to have my parents, and I have just been blessed immensely, and as long as I can help others, to give back, I think that matters most," said Williams.

Six million children have been targeted to receive oral doses of polio vaccine, and five million of them are being vaccinated against measles. Vitamin-A is also administered to the children, and those under two get free insecticide-treated mosquito bed netting. Malaria is blamed for one-quarter of all deaths of children under five every year in Ghana.

Serena Williams says she felt privileged to be part of the integrated child health program sponsored in part by UNICEF. "I have always dreamed of coming ... into a village like this, and just interacting with everyone," she said, "and you guys have made my dream come true, and I just want to make sure that everyone is educated about these vaccines that are so important, and it is awesome that everyone is here."

Serena Williams is not well known in this community, but Nafesa Ibrahim, who brought her sister for vaccination, knows all about the tennis star and her sister, Venus, who is also a tennis champion.

"I know her. I see her on TV most of the time," said Ibrahim. "I have been watching most of her matches, too, I know her sister. We are very grateful for her to be here to do what she is doing."

No child has died of measles in Ghana since 2002, and reported cases of the disease have dropped from 12,000 that year to fewer than 500.

The West African nation has not recorded any cases of polio since an outbreak in 2003. The Ghanaian health authorities attribute the development to mass immunization campaigns during the past three years.