On Friday 4th 2015 , the Government of Kenya alongside her development partners including Unicef; launched a nation-wide polio vaccination campaign in Nyahururu which is running from 5th to 9th December 2015 with a target of vaccinating 8.7 Million Children below the age of 5 against polio. This is for sure no mean task and the health system in the country has been properly mobilized to achieve the set target from the community health workers, volunteers and facilities around the country being led by specific county health departments coordinating with the Ministry of Health from the National Government.
To ensure that the uptake of this campaign is on target and to ease the challenge that is normally faced by the immunization officers who go door to door administering the vaccine, the national ambassador for immunization Sen. Harold Kipchumba supported by Unicef and the Ministry of Health initiated County Immunization Champions who have been tasked to work closely with County Health Promotion Officers in ensuring that the polio immunization campaign is successful.
The team is comprised of persons with disabilities who are survivors of polio and are successful in various fields of career including politics, public service, business and executives in non-profit organizations in the country. These individuals are sharing stories of their lives with parents who often resist to allow the officers to vaccinate their children for one reason or another, we are working to ensure that each parent who has doubts about the vaccine gets to know the importance of having their children vaccinated to avoid going through similar challenges we have undergone as adults who are survivors of polio in Kenya.
I personally got a rare opportunity to work with several supervisors from different health facilities in Nairobi and talking to the immunization officers to know and help with the challenges being faced at the various points of their work. Being an immunization ambassador for Nairobi County, the vastness of the county would ofcourse pose a challenge on how one can cover the whole county to ensure that there is an opportunity to talk to the families that still resist allowing their children to be vaccinated against polio.
It is striking to note that families that bring a lot of challenges to the immunization officers are actually from the middle-class segment of our society, these are those who won’t let the officers gain entrance in their gated communities, rudely turn-off the officers without giving them an opportunity to explain the importance of the vaccination exercise and why the Government is investing so much money in the same. One would think that given the high levels of education amongst the middle-class that they would understand why we need to kick-out polio from Kenya! It would be assumed that polio is for the poor since they are the ones taking up the vaccination exercise without any resistance!
I got polio at the age of 2 years and I still remember how my parents struggled to bring me up, I was the expensive child in our family because while it would only require Kes 200 or less to buy a shoe to my siblings for school, it costed Kes 5,000 then for me to have a walking aid for my movements. It now costs over Kes 15,000 to have a basic mobility sorted out.
While my siblings went to a nearby school which didn’t require much in terms of school fee, I had to leave my home in Kakamega County for Kisumu County for a Special School that catered for Children with Disabilities and thus started boarding while I was at Kindergarten upto Standard 8 and then High School in Mombasa which was also a boarding school and required a much bigger investment from my parents as opposed to my siblings.
Our country has such a poor physical infrastructure in almost all important facilities; the roads,schools,hospitals,vehicles,houses,government offices etc,they are not the kind you would wish to bring up a child who has been attacked by polio well knowing that the vaccination is offered free. We all love our children and have a responsibility to them including ensuring that they achieve the highest standards of health as a matter of right, it is from that particular responsibility that I am amazed to find out that even educated people can deny their children a right to be protected from preventable diseases such as polio which has no treatment but can be prevented through a vaccine that is globally approved and administered in a monitored environment!
You probably know a child in the neighbourhood be it gated or the apartment, the slums or the mansions – for the sake of their future, please talk to their parents to take them to a health facility for immunization against polio or allow the immunization officers come into their building to do the necessary because it is an investment into their future and we should not deny them this right. If you want me to share with a particular group, church or have a one-on-one with a family you are not able to convince, reach out to me, that is the reason I am giving out my time to ensure that we indeed deal polio a big blow from Kenya!
The writer is an Immunization Champion for Nairobi County,Kenya-Fredrick Ouko