Red Cross volunteers step up the fight against measles and polio in Nigeria

Published: 27 January 2014 15:31 CET

Nwakpa O Nwakpa, Nigeria Red Cross Society and David Fogden, IFRC

Measles and polio are serious diseases in Nigeria, particularly for young children who are often the most vulnerable to contracting the highly infectious viruses. Nigeria is one of just three countries in the world where polio remains endemic (Afghanistan and Pakistan are the others). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Nigeria registers 96 per cent of all polio cases, worldwide. The numbers are dropping, however, with 53 cases reported in 2013, compared to 118 the year before.

Measles also infects thousands of children every year and can be fatal if not treated. In Nigeria alone, more than 18,000 measles cases were reported in 2011 (WHO), however, with the use of safe and effective vaccines, both of these “child killers” can be prevented. It is a challenging fight as many parents resist vaccinating their children due to misconceptions that the vaccines are harmful.

The Nigerian Red Cross Society, over a period of three months, carried out a measles and polio vaccination campaign in which 180,660 families in the capital territory of Abuja received sensitization messages on the importance of vaccinations and 360,543 children were immunized.

Three days before the campaigns, 1,800 specially trained Red Cross volunteers conducted house-to-house visits, providing eligible families with standardized information on the rationale for the measles follow-up campaign, the targeted age group, the locations of nearest service delivery points, as well as the expected reactions after receiving the vaccinations.

During the measles vaccination campaign days, Red Cross volunteers also assisted at the vaccination posts to receive mothers and caregivers bringing children, screen for age eligibility, and register children who have been vaccinated. “When there were no children turning up for vaccinations, the volunteers would then conduct additional or reminder visits to the households in their catchments area, making sure the children were taken to the nearest vaccination posts,” said Joy Idara, deputy head of health and care at the Nigerian Red Cross Society.

“Our volunteers also embarked on house to house post campaign visits to help identify children under the age of five who had not received measles or polio vaccinations,” said Nwakpa O Nwakpa, head of communications at the National Society. “During those visits, 44,041 families were visited and 15,779 children were identified and referred to government hospitals and clinics for proper attention and to receive the vaccinations.”

Parents were also educated on the basics of polio and measles transmission and prevention. “Our aim is to achieve 95 per cent measles and polio vaccination coverage through this initiative, which was supported by the American Red Cross, and carried out in collaboration with the Nigerian Primary Health Care Delivery Agency,” said Nwakpa.