Preventing Polio from Spreading to Kibera May 29, 2014 by Nick Johnson
Health organizations worldwide treat even a single case of polio very seriously. According to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, “Most people infected with the polio virus have no signs of illness and are never aware they have been infected. For this reason, the WHO considers a single confirmed case of polio paralysis to be evidence of an epidemic – particularly in countries where very few cases occur.”
In 2013, 14 cases of polio were reported from refugee camps in the town of Dadaab, located in Northeastern Kenya. This was Kenya’s first occurrence of the disease since 2011. In response to the reported cases, the government of Kenya, supported by UNICEF and the WHO, began a polio immunization campaign in areas where the risk of polio is highest, such as in the refugee camps and near Kenya’s borders.
Nairobi was also identified as a risk area, due to its population and transient nature. Social mobilization campaigns were organized within communities to draw awareness to the risk of polio, the importance of immunizations, and places and times where immunizations were available.
Community Health Workers (CHWs), organized through Carolina for Kibera’s Community Wellness program, were also rallied into the campaign. The government set the target of reaching 95% of children under the age of five, the most vulnerable population for communicable diseases, in three villages where CFK’s health programs operate. CHWs got to work, going door-to-door talking to their neighbors about getting their children immunized against polio.
Recently, a report of the polio immunization campaign was released that indicated the targeted number of children under the age of five to be reached (11,123) in the villages where CFK works was met—and surpassed by 32%. This means that a total of 14,651 children were immunized against polio and that CHWs managed to reach beyond the target to new families who had moved into the area or those who were passing through the three villages.
Misinformation about polio, as with misinformation about other diseases in Kibera, is widespread and difficult to correct. This polio vaccination campaign illustrates how members of the community can effectively rally around a cause and support one another. The high immunization rate also shows the level of organization and trust that is present in places where CFK’s Community Wellness Program operates. With this level of confidence in CFK’s health initiatives, stopping the spread of diseases can be more effective, far-reaching, and timely, so that no child in Kibera has to suffer a preventable disease.