Sink or swim—paddling against polio
A unique look at immunization efforts in a sprawling water community
“Our area is a pretty difficult terrain because we live in the water and it is not easy for the teams coming from outside the community to gain access. So, the (hand-drawn) maps make it possible for us to identify areas we have yet to reach during the immunization exercise”, says Peter Idowu, a veteran community mobilizer and team supervisor in Makoko — a riverine shanty town located on the coast of mainland Lagos city, southwest Nigeria. Native to the village, Peter is the man to go to whenever the polio immunization teams face challenges navigating the waterways or the community.
The sprawling water city Makoko is a slum located across the Third Mainland Bridge on the lagoon. It is a largely low-income community with half the population on water and the other half on land. Informal, makeshift houses with corrugated iron roofs sit precariously atop stilts. Down below, narrow wooden boats act as a form of aquatic taxi ferrying goods and people around the bustling community. Nobody knows the exact population of this slum district of Lagos, but it is estimated to be as high as 100 000. It is mostly a fishing community inhabited by the Egun people.
“My goal is to see that all the kids in our community are immunized and live healthy lives. That is why I engage our teams in sensitizing parents all the time on the importance of routine immunization and the dangers of polio. As a member of the community and with a passion of becoming a health worker myself, I kept on mobilizing our people for easy accessibility, because our language is different from Yoruba and most of the Polio teams can’t speak the language. It is always easy with me being in the Polio team as our people will readily accept the vaccine without rejecting,” says Peter.
Nigeria is the only country in Africa and one of the only three in the world endemic to wild poliovirus, alongside Afghanistan and Pakistan. Nigeria is also affected by circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2 (cVDPV2) outbreaks.
UNICEF works closely together with Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), key polio partners and the Nigerian government. There is a vast network of over 20 000 community mobilizers focusing on demand creation and improving health-seeking behaviors of caregivers.