Making a difference in the fight against polio in South Sudan

Published: 11 December 2013 16:05 CET

By Susan Onyango, IFRC

Jane Pita, 26, is a primary school teacher by profession. She is among 52 Red Cross volunteers who were recently trained to supervise others in social mobilization as part of the on-going campaign to stop the spread of polio in South Sudan.

She joined the South Sudan Red Cross Society one year ago after hearing about it from friends who were already volunteers. Over the course of that year, Jane has also been trained in first aid, and HIV/AIDS prevention among others.

“The Red Cross is a humanitarian organization. I like to help vulnerable people in the community. I have been able to transfer my teaching skills to the South Sudan Red Cross Society,” Pita said. “For this polio campaign, I see myself as a role model. I feel good about being a leader. I have trained 14 social mobilizers who are working under me.”

Every morning during the polio campaign, Jane meets her team and plans the route to be covered for the day. She reminds them of the messages they need to give to parents on the importance of having their children vaccinated against the disease.

“Many people think that vaccines cause infertility. We have to debunk these myths because they cause more harm than good to children,” says Jane. “These are some of the challenges that we face as we go about talking to communities about the benefits of the polio vaccine.”

At the end of each day, Jane again meets her team to collect information on the sections of the villages reached by the social mobilizers and the vaccinators. She uploads this information into a database using a mobile phone specially programmed to collate  information on the status of the polio vaccination exercise. She notifies the government health authorities of households that have not been reached, giving details on the exact location and number of children to be vaccinated.

“Our work has been made easier by the social mobilizers because people are aware of the benefits of polio vaccination. They also inform us of areas that have not been reached to ensure maximum coverage,” said Zacharia Wani, a government volunteer vaccinator.

Following the recent confirmation of more than 200 cases of polio in neighbouring countries of Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya and the potential for the virus to spread into South Sudan, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) stepped in to support the first two national rounds of emergency immunization in the country. More than 500,000 children under the age of five will be vaccinated against the disease in 24 counties in the West, Central and Eastern Equatoria states.

World Volunteer Day - 5 December