Battling Polio in Africa: Part 1, Positive Reception in Every VillagePosted on by
Note: This is the first in a series about Ted’s experiences in Ghana during February, March, and April 2010.
VOLTA, April 20, 2010 — It’s been a good trip. I’m at the end of my 12 weeks volunteering with WHO in Ghana as a Field Officer for a STOP Team — Stop the Transmission of Polio. As a member of team number 33, I’m one of the thousands of STOP volunteers who have participated since polio eradication began in 1988 and have been traveling from clinic to clinic across the country to review and improve their childhood immunization practices. While our emphasis is on polio, we pull records and review impact for all nine of the childhood vaccines used here in the country.
We also participate in the region’s National Immunization Day (NID), which actually last three days. NID’s are fun, but they take a huge amount of planning. The goal during an NID is to provide two drops of oral polio vaccine (OPV) to every child under the age of 5. Last month, we delivered 5.5 million doses, and we’re still counting the numbers from this weekend. I was assigned a district for each NID, and it’s my job to visit the villages after the NID volunteers have departed to assess their impact. This generally goes quite smoothly, and I carry vaccine with me in a carrier should I encounter a child who has been “missed.” Generally this is only 1 or 2 children.
This past Sunday morning, I was in a small fishing village with a Ghana Health Services partner when we got a call that there was a boy in church who hadn’t been vaccinated. We went to the church and found the boy and his father waiting for us and administered the vaccine and a vitamin A supplement. As I was packing to go, a parishioner asked me to wait as another child was coming. “Sure thing,” I replied.
I moved to the back door of the church and looked out the window and saw a young girl carrying an infant. After vaccinating that child, I turned around to find three more children. I checked to see if they had been vaccinated (we mark the left little finger when we’re done). They hadn’t been, so we vaccinated them. We then walked around the back wall of the church toward our car and looked up the lane. Coming toward us were a number of women, each carrying a child and shepherding more in front of them. It turns out the vaccine team had missed a street (not hard to do if you’ve seen the meandering way in which some of these towns are created), and when word got out that we were in the area, they started streaming towards us. By the time we had put away our vials we had vaccinated 24 children without ever leaving the church stoop.
I’ve received nothing short of a positive reception in every village that I’ve visited, but this was especially rewarding as it showed me that there was a clear understanding of the need for childhood vaccine as well as the community’s desire to see that it was administered. We moved on to the next village, which wasn’t nearly as active, but this was a nice way to complete my field work.
Stay tuned for my next posting (Part 2), where I’ll tell you more about the people I’ve met here in Ghana.