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Saturday, 30 November, 2002, 00:32 GMT
Giving polio the boot in Ghana
Vaccination programme
Each child vaccinated is marked with a dye
Charity volunteer James Baker has been helping out at the sixth annual polio eradication programme in Ghana.

He tells BBC News Online about the fight to get Africa polio free.


A faded sticker on the back of a taxi in Accra, Ghana's busy capital reads "Goodbye Polio - Thanks Rotary."

And from our experience helping on one of the polio vaccination programmes earlier this month that does seem to sum up the feelings here.

A few thousand dedicated hard working government staff and volunteers have, along with Rotary, carefully co-ordinated a nationwide attempt to vaccinate every child between the ages of one and five.

The programme has been running for over five years and is heavily sponsored by Rotary International and The Rotary Club.

Campaign

Everyone involved wears a Rotary International "Kick Polio out of Ghana' t-shirt".

And since commencing six years ago the success has been incredible.


It was amazing to think that we were taking part in an operation that was simultaneously occurring in every village, town and city across West Africa

Anna-May Long

The last case of wild polio in the region was in 1998 in the North Tongu district.

This year we were fortunate enough to get the opportunity to assist with the Volta Region Health Administration in the South Tongu District Ghana.

It was an opportunity not to be missed.

Vaccination programme
The programme aims to vaccinate all children between one and five

The three day programme is co-ordinated not only across Ghana, but across all 17 countries in West Africa and takes place bi-annually, this year between 4-6 October and again between 8-10 November.

The plans for Volta Region alone had been formulated with military precision and Dr Dedzo of the Volta Region Health Authority was quick to point that it would go ahead despite the numerous conflicts across West Africa.

The area where we worked was a particularly difficult area for the authority. Close to the Togolese border, where daily migration is common, in an area where the local language of 'Ewe' is spoken on both sides of the border.

Dye

To ensure every child is vaccinated a purple, gentian violet dye, is used to mark each child and houses are ticked with chalk in biblical style.

The area is very rural. Teams work on motor-bikes to get to children in the isolated villages not accessible to the authority's 4x4s.

New settlements and isolated communities are found each time the programme is run.

But the problems in the area also left a few hurdles to overcome.

The authority had to negotiate with communities and families that are fundamentally opposed to any medication on religious basis and even a town were tribal tensions had left seven dead only a few days before.

House marked
Each house visited is marked with chalk

Dr McDamien Dedzo of the Volta Region Health Authority explained that it was vital to overcome these problems if they were to eradicate polio from Ghana.

"Any operation of this size is forced to deal with any number of different challenges. But we overcome them. We can eradicate this disease from Ghana forever. That is the aim and that is what we shall do."

Anna-May Long, a medical student from University college London, on elective in Ghana and taking part in the programme said the scale of action was impressive.

"The size of the operation was immense. On travelling down a dusty track through tiny villages we came across smiling health-workers at every turn, carrying cool-boxes with phials of the vaccine inside.

"It was amazing to think that we were taking part in an operation that was simultaneously occurring in every village, town and city across West Africa."

Dedicated

The main success of the programme though was evident to all of us - the dedication and commitment shown by staff.

One of the major factors in the success of the programme was evident all the time we were there.

No stone was left unturned.

Whilst staff were working at vaccination points others were touring the town checking with the residents that no families had been missed and all the while reinforcing the importance of the programme and educating people on the effects of polio.

With this level of commitment on the ground it can only be a matter of time before polio in Ghana really is given the boot.

See also:

09 Sep 02 | Health
20 May 02 | Africa
20 Apr 02 | Africa
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