Music and mothers

Intensified communication efforts in the fight against polio in Chad

Chadian musicians encourage parents to vaccinate their children against polio. (UNICEF Chad/Cao)

9 January 2013 – Toma Mamout has found her calling: to encourage Chad’s mothers to vaccinate their children. Four of her seven children died young, including one from polio. Now she works in the West Mongo health centre, also venturing out to local communities to discuss the importance of vaccination, basic hygiene and the use of bed nets to prevent malaria.

“We advise mothers to bring their children to every vaccination drive and to stick to the calendar,” she says.

According to Ms. Mamout, on her rounds to the more distant villages, the semi-nomadic local communities “refused until recently to allow their children to be vaccinated, out of ignorance and fear.”

“Mobilizing communities themselves is the best chance for making improvements, because Chad’s health system is still too weak,” she explains. “For low-cost training and awareness efforts, UNICEF supports an effective and engaged outreach network – community outreach volunteers, vaccinators and supervisors – in which everyone is truly a champion of vaccinations.”

“The vaccine against polio may cause sterility and makes our children sick” – or at least Rachel, a mother of four from the Chadian capital, N’Djamena, thinks so.

Unfortunately, Rachel is not alone. According to the latest social data analysis, the number of missed children and vaccine refusals has recorded an increasing trend over the last few months in N’Djamena. A recent report by the Independent Monitoring Board of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative expressed concerns that “the percentage of children missed for ‘social reasons’ is still high in Chad. Caregivers’ poor awareness of vaccination campaigns is now rated as high-risk by UNICEF.”

While the main reason children miss out on the polio vaccine in Chad is the weakness of the health system in getting vaccine to the most vulnerable, creating understanding and awareness among the community helps build demand, which can ultimately only strengthen health services.

In response to the escalating number of missed children in N’Djamena, the Government, with the support of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative partners, carried out an intensified social mobilization and communication campaign involving prominent Chadian Artists, the Scouts Movement and the National Council of Youth during the last immunization campaign.

Popular Chadian musicians rallied in the fight against polio with an open air, free-admission concert to raise awareness in N’Djamena. They captured the attention of thousands of people, not only through their music, but also by expressing strong messages about the importance of vaccinating children against polio.

“Youth, I say this: when you see the vaccinators, it is to give two drops against polio. So ask your parents to allow them to vaccinate your siblings. Parents leave behind the preconceptions. If you want your children to play as soccer players, have them vaccinated so they are not paralyzed,” expressed Ngass David, a famous Chadian singer during the campaign.

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