STOPing Polio

Skilled public health professionals volunteer to strengthen local eradication programmes

STOP consultant Deepali Sharma with local health workers, baby Zainab and Zainab’s mother. Photo courtesy of Deepali Sharma and CDC
STOP consultant Deepali Sharma with local health workers, baby Zainab and Zainab’s mother. Photo courtesy of Deepali Sharma and CDC

This photo above captures a particularly memorable moment for STOP volunteer Deepali Sharma:

“After vaccinating the young girl, I couldn’t resist holding her because of the joy of saving that one life, reaching that one “last child” and the feeling that I became a part of the process of change.”

While Deepali held the child in her arms during a vaccination round in Sokoto State at the end of 2012, two local health workers and the child’s mother struck up a conversation comparing India’s polio eradication programme to Nigeria’s.

“They concluded that India eliminated polio because we didn’t have problems like Nigeria. I explained that we have everything in India just like Nigeria – drought, floods, a large population, nomads, hard-to-reach areas, resistance and even security issues in some parts. So if we can do that there we can do it here as well.

“They were surprised (based on what they had seen of India in movies) but agreed – “yes, we can”!! We took a pledge against polio, smiled and requested our very enthusiastic and committed colleague to capture this memory – which turned into a truly beautiful picture.”

Many countries affected by polio have a shortage of skilled public health staff available to fully support eradication efforts. The Stop Transmission of Polio (STOP) program helps address this shortage by training and deploying skilled public health professionals who volunteer to support in-country immunization programs. These volunteers work closely with host-country ministries of health, WHO, UNICEF, and local communities, supplementing and strengthening existing polio eradication efforts.

Brazilian health communication specialist Camilla Sa Freire is about to return for her second STOP deployment to Angola. Once there, she will work with local health workers to develop communication materials and strategies to encourage parents, many of whom are unfamiliar with vaccination, to vaccinate their children.

“I always ask myself, ‘How can I help people to really understand why their children need to be vaccinated?’” she explains. “Understanding cultural practices and roles that are barriers to vaccination can help public health workers develop strategies that overcome resistance.”

Since 1999, more than 1,850 STOP volunteers have worked in 70 countries. The January 2013 STOP cohort has the largest number of volunteers ever – 181 volunteers from 13 countries to be deployed to 27 countries. To learn more about how STOP volunteers like Deepali and Camilla are working to eradicate polio, please visit http://www.cdc.gov/media/dpk/2013/dpk-STOP-Polio.html.

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