Dar es Salam refugee camp, in Bagassola district, Chad, is home to thousands of refugees. 95% of the population is Nigerian, displaced by years of violent insurgency, drought and insecurity in the Lake Chad basin. Some have lived in the camp since 2014.
Here, temperatures soar to 45 degree Celsius nearly every day. Dust is inescapable, colouring everything a shade of yellow. Houses are constructed from tents, tarpaulins and reeds, pitched onto sand. There is no employment, few shops, and no green areas.
Kilometers from the lake, residents have no access to the water around which their livelihoods revolved, as fishing people, as traders at the markets located around the island network, or as cattle farmers. This renders them almost entirely reliant on aid. The edge of the camp is an enormous parking lot, filled with trucks loaded with donations. Signs interrupt the landscape, attributing the camp’s schools, football pitches, and water stations to different funding sources.
Polio immunization is a core health intervention offered by the health centre here, with monthly house to house vaccination protecting every child from the virus.
“We vaccinate to keep them healthy”
In return for their work, vaccinators receive a small payment, one of the few ways of earning money in the camp. In Dar es Salam, there are thirty positions, currently filled by 24 men and six women, and applications are very competitive. Those chosen for the role are talented vaccinators, who really know their community.
Laurence speaks multiple languages, adeptly communicating with virtually everyone in the camp. He is a fatherly figure, engaging parents in conversations about the importance of vaccination whilst his colleague gives vaccine drops to siblings. Their mother is a seamstress, constructing garments on a table under one of the few leafy trees. Laurence engages her in conversation, explaining why the polio vaccine is so important.
Describing his work, he says, “I tell parents that the vaccine protects children from disease, especially in this sun, and that we vaccinate every month to keep them healthy.”
A precious document in a plastic bag
Chadian nationals living in nearby internally displaced persons camps don’t have the same entitlements as international refugees. Several hours’ drive from Dar es Salam, children lack access to even a basic health centre.
At a camp in Mélea, vaccinators perform routine immunization against measles and other diseases under a shelter made from branches. Cross-legged on the ground, they fill in paperwork, carefully administer injections, sooth babies, and dispose safely of needles. Other vaccinators give the oral polio vaccine to every child under the age of ten. These children are mostly from the islands, displaced by insurgency. Their vaccination history is patchy at best, and it is critical that they are protected.
One father arrives accompanied by his small, bouncy son. As the baby looks curiously at the scene in front of him, his dad draws out a tied plastic bag. Within is his son’s vaccination card, carefully protected from the temperatures and difficult physical environment of the camp.
A UNICEF health worker reads it, and realizes that the child is due another dose of polio vaccine. Squealing with confusion, the baby is laid back in his sibling’s arms, and two drops administered. The shock over, he is quickly back to smiling, rocked up and down as his dad folds up the card, and ties it up in the bag once more.
“Our biggest challenge”
Back in Dar es Salam, DJórané Celestin, the responsible officer for the health centre explains the wider challenges of vaccination in this environment.
“We don’t just vaccinate within Dar es Salam in our campaigns. We are also responsible for 27 villages in the nearby surroundings. Reaching these places proves our biggest challenge.”
Away from the main route to Dar es Salam, there are no roads or signs, and many tracks are unpassable. To reach the 539 children known to live in the villages, vaccinators walk, or rent motorbikes, travelling for many hours.
This month, another round of vaccination in the Lake Chad island region concluded. Hundreds more refugee and internally displaced children are protected, in some of the most challenging and under-resourced places to grow up.
Le jour se lève dans le district sanitaire de Bol, au Tchad, et la Dre Adele commence sa journée. Elle monte dans son canoë et, après avoir jeté un coup d’œil à sa carte, commence un long voyage sur les eaux du lac Tchad. Dans quatre à six heures, se frayant un chemin parmi les roseaux, elle aura atteint une île isolée où les enfants n’ont encore jamais été vaccinés.
La Dre Adele Daleke Lisi Aluma vit dans l’une des régions du monde où la vaccination est la plus difficile. Dans le district de Bol, 45 pourcent des enfants vivent dans des îles isolées et difficiles d’accès où les obstacles géographiques, la violence, l’insécurité et la pauvreté empêchent le plus souvent de prodiguer à la population les services de santé et les autres services publics.
Son travail consiste à surmonter ces obstacles en cherchant chaque enfant non encore vacciné, tout en mettant à profit son expérience pour que le programme fasse le meilleur usage des ressources en vue d’atteindre à chaque fois le plus d’enfants possible.
Un itinéraire à planifier
La première étape de chaque campagne consiste à planifier l’itinéraire. En étudiant les cartes, en en comparant les informations, la Dre Adele et son équipe s’efforcent de trouver la façon la plus efficace d’atteindre les nombreuses îles où les vaccinateurs doivent se rendre.
« L’équipe prévoit souvent ses campagnes lors du marché hebdomadaire, car on peut alors vacciner les enfants qui accompagnent leur mère pour l’achat et la vente des produits de base », explique-t-elle.
Afin que le vaccin soit mieux accepté, la Dre Adele et ses collègues téléphonent aux anciens et aux chefs de village quelques jours avant chaque campagne afin de leur expliquer pourquoi il est si important de se protéger contre la poliomyélite et les autres maladies évitables par la vaccination.
Cette approche permet d’accroître la portée du programme. Auparavant, les vaccinateurs parcouraient parfois de longues distances, pendant de nombreux jours, avant d’arriver sur des îles où se trouvaient en réalité très peu d’enfants. Cela entraînait des gaspillages, les vaccinateurs ne parvenant pas à maintenir, sur le trajet de retour, les vaccins à une température suffisamment froide pour qu’ils puissent profiter à d’autres enfants. Aujourd’hui, une meilleure planification et l’achat de réfrigérateurs solaires pour le stockage des vaccins contribuent à résoudre le problème.
« Pour tirer le maximum d’une session de vaccination, nous devons nous assurer que nos opérations sur le terrain soient efficientes et efficaces, en manquant le moins possible d’occasions », ajoute-t-elle.
Un voyage difficile
Le lac Tchad n’est pas un plan d’eau dégagé : les voies navigables y sont entravées par des roseaux et des arbres et par la vie animale. Pour atteindre les îles, la Dre Adele utilise un canoë, naviguant adroitement dans ces eaux difficiles pendant plusieurs heures. Les équipes doivent faire preuve de la plus grande vigilance. Il leur faut avancer, maintenir les vaccins au froid et éviter les piqûres d’insectes, voire les rencontres avec les hippopotames.
Malgré ces difficultés, elle trouve son travail extrêmement gratifiant.
« À chaque fois que j’atteins un village isolé, je me sens plus motivée que jamais à poursuivre mon action. »
Opérationnelle dès son arrivée
Dès qu’elle est arrivée sur l’île, la Dre Adele commence à vacciner. La majorité des enfants qui vivent dans des villages insulaires isolés ont reçu moins de trois doses de vaccin antipoliomyélitique oral, et sont donc vulnérables face au virus. La Dre Adele s’efforce de protéger chacun d’eux.
Un membre de la famille proche de la Dre Adele a été touché par la poliomyélite et cette expérience est pour elle un véritable moteur. Auparavant, elle a participé à des campagnes de vaccination et à la surveillance épidémiologique de cette maladie en République démocratique du Congo et en Haïti, dans le cadre d’une carrière qui l’a menée partout dans le monde.
Des résultats tangibles
À chaque campagne, la Dre Adele vaccine des centaines d’enfants, mais recherche également des signes du virus.
Lors d’un récent déplacement dans les îles, elle et son équipe ont découvert un enfant atteint de paralysie flasque aiguë, un signe potentiel de poliomyélite, qui n’avait pas été signalé au réseau de surveillance de la maladie. Il s’est finalement avéré que l’enfant n’avait pas la poliomyélite, mais cet exemple montre que le programme doit absolument continuer d’intervenir dans ces zones difficiles d’accès, de vacciner les enfants et d’inciter les communautés à signaler tout cas présumé.
La Dre Adele contribue d’ores et déjà à renforcer la surveillance en formant les habitants de chaque village à reconnaître les signes d’un cas de poliomyélite potentiel.
Elle prévoit également de futurs déplacements : « Nous pensons revenir bientôt encadrer et accompagner les équipes de vaccination dans les zones insulaires. »
Ces efforts sont indispensables pour atteindre les communautés les plus isolées du lac Tchad.
Pour plus d’informations sur les femmes en première ligne de l’éradication de la poliomyélite (en anglais)
When the sun rises in the health district of Bol, in Chad, Dr Adele’s day begins. Launching her canoe into the reed-filled waters of Lake Chad, and taking a look at the map, she readies herself for the long journey ahead. In four to six hours time she will arrive at a remote island, where there are children never before reached with vaccines.
Dr Adele Daleke Lisi Aluma works in one of the most challenging areas of the world in which to vaccinate. In Bol, 45% of children live on difficult-to-access, remote islands, where geographical barriers, violence, insecurity, and poverty mean people usually do not receive health or other government services.
Her job is to overcome these barriers, seeking out every last child for vaccination, whilst using her experience to ensure that the programme makes the best use of resources to reach the most children, every time.
Planning the route
A first step for every campaign is to plan the route. Studying maps, and comparing information, Dr Adele and her team find the most efficient way to reach the multiple islands that must be visited by vaccinators.
“The team often plans campaigns to take place at the same time as the weekly market, to vaccinate children when they are with their mothers buying and selling necessities,” she says.
To increase acceptance of the vaccine, a few days before each campaign, Dr Adele and her colleagues telephone village elders and leaders, explaining why protection against polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases is so important.
This helps to improve the programme’s reach. In the past, vaccinators sometimes travelled long distances over many days to islands where there are very few children. This meant wasted vaccine, as vaccinators were not able to keep the spare vaccines cold enough on the return journey to be used for other children. Today, better planning, as well as the purchase of solar refrigerators for vaccine storage, helps to solve this issue.
“To maximise a vaccination session, we need to make sure our field operations are efficient and effective, minimizing missed opportunities” she says.
Lake Chad is made up of waterways filled with reeds, trees, and wildlife: not a flat stretch of water. To get to the islands, Dr Adele uses a paddle canoe, deftly navigating the difficult terrain for hours at a time. The teams need to be careful – while steering straight and keeping the vaccines cold, they must also watch out for insect bites – and even hippos.
Despite the challenges, she finds a huge sense of achievement in her work.
“Reaching a difficult to access village gives me every time a sense of motivation to continue.”
Upon reaching an island, Dr Adele begins vaccination. The majority of children in remote island villages have received less than three doses of oral polio vaccine, leaving them vulnerable to the virus. One by one, Dr Adele works to protect them.
Dr Adele is driven in her work by her experience of a close family member with polio. Previously, she conducted immunization and epidemiological surveillance for polio in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Haiti, as part of a career that has taken her all over the world.
With each campaign, Dr Adele vaccinates hundreds of children, but she also looks for signs of the virus.
On a recent trip to the islands, she and her team discovered a child with acute flaccid paralysis, a potential signal of polio, who had not been reported to the polio surveillance network. While the child didn’t have polio, this underlines the crucial need for the programme to continue to access these difficult to reach places, vaccinate children, and encourage communities to report any suspected polio cases.
Dr Adele is already helping to strengthen surveillance through training community members in each village to recognise the signs of a potential polio case.
She is also planning her next journeys: “We plan to return soon to supervise and accompany vaccination teams in the island areas.”
To reach the remotest communities in Lake Chad, this is what it takes.
For more stories about women on the frontlines of polio eradication
The discovery of wild poliovirus in Borno and Sokoto states in Nigeria in 2016 after more than two years without any reported cases prompted a multi-country response in neighbouring countries of the Lake Chad basin, covering Cameroon, Central Africa Republic, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. Since the outbreak response started, coordinated vaccination campaigns have been taking place in all five countries, reaching tens of millions of children. This year, campaigns are planned for March, April and October – all of them synchronized between the neighbouring countries.
In Chad, vaccination activities for polio and other diseases are being carried out in priority districts, supplementing regional campaigns which aim to target the hardest-to-reach children.
The polio eradication programme is using technology in innovative ways to map the activities of polio workers on the ground, and ensure that expertise and support is getting to the areas where it is most needed.
More than 300 international consultants are deployed by the partners of the GPEI in some of the countries most vulnerable to polio. By strengthening surveillance, tracking the virus, identifying immunity gaps and supporting vaccination campaigns to fill them, these consultants provide an important boost to capacity in polio-affected or vulnerable countries. By using new technologies, the programme is mapping the activities of all consultants to capture the range of locations they travel to and the activities they carry out. These innovations ensure that countries receive the best support from these consultants, and that they are working where the need is greatest.
The introduction of this new technology means that each week, no matter where they are in the world, international consultants report on their activities using a smartphone application called Survey123. The report only takes a minute to complete, works offline and captures their location at the time of reporting. By answering questions on what activities and diseases they have been working on that week, this tool enables the GPEI to capture data in real-time and ensure international consultants are being efficiently deployed in high risk polio areas and being used to their greatest advantage.
In the below snapshot from the first week of October, reports from the consultants can be seen in Guinea, the Lake Chad region, Madagascar, Somalia, Afghanistan and Pakistan – the areas that are most vulnerable to the virus.
Getting people where they are most needed
Survey123 is also enabling the GPEI to identify changes in deployment over time. The recent notification of wild poliovirus in the Lake Chad region demonstrated the use of this clarity, by showing the movement of consultants into and around the Lake Chad region, despite insecurity and inaccessibility.
In depth analysis such as this provides greater clarity on what additional human resources are needed to respond to outbreaks or newly recognised risk areas, and indicates how rapidly GPEI resources can be used to fill important needs.
The broader benefits of polio eradication
Due to the scale of polio eradication activities even in the most remote and vulnerable areas to reach every last child, international consultants are sometimes present where other health infrastructure is weak. The capacity of the polio programme in these vulnerable areas is sometimes used to support other health initiatives, including improving routine immunisation, measles activities, communication for development and emergency response.
Analysing the collected reports from Survey 123 is giving us greater insight into the extent to which consultants are supporting other health programmes. The support provided to other health programmes shown in the map below highlights the continued benefits of the polio eradication infrastructure to other public health initiatives, giving the donors to the GPEI more bang for their buck when investing in polio eradication. The information gathered from this new technology is helping to inform transition planning efforts, providing information needed to country governments and GPEI partners as they look ahead to what should happen to the polio eradication infrastructure once the goal of a polio-free world has been achieved.
|The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) is highlighting the innovations that are helping to bring us closer to a polio-free world. Find out about other new approaches driving the polio eradication efforts by reading more in the Innovation Series.|