Polio and Speaking Books: UNICEF, Rotary International, Emeka Offor press on
The global war against poliovirus has been waged on many fronts for more than half a century with punctuated accelerations and decelerations. Over time, the geographical theaters have shifted remarkably, warranting boundaries to be redrawn or descaled. Eradication has been successful from the Americas, north, and south, and across the Atlantic to the far-flung fringes of the Pacific. Now, in these modern times, poliovirus has been pushed back to the volatile terrains of Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan.
Historically, the approach to a winning fight against polio had taken a rather unusual tact. The emergence of polio vaccine was a scientifically surreptitious breakthrough in the mid-fifties (1955). Its application brought immediate relief and raised the hope for eradication. But it was not enough to just have the vaccine. It became necessary to have a strategic response plan that is sustainable, progressive and result driven.
As years became decades, it became clear that global eradication of polio required frontline nations to lead the charge through the wheels of policies, advocacy, and diplomatic pressure. The evolution of the World Health Assembly’s (WHA) social contract redefined the goal post and consequently set the stage for what is now known as the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI).
Fast tracking to 2014 and moving forward, the activities of Islamic Terrorist group, Boko Haram, in northeastern Nigeria, presented a major challenge in polio awareness creation and the administration of a vaccine to children. New strategies to reach communities in the volatile zones had to be adopted.
One creative strategy that has become indispensible is the creation of a corps of Volunteer Community Mobilizers (VCM). Nominated by their communities, these female volunteers go house-to-house, educating families about polio, how to prevent it and to ensure that all children under five years age receive the Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV). Using a community-friendly approach, they can identify non-compliant parents and missed children.
To advance the efforts of VCMs, United Nation Children Fund (UNICEF) collaborated with Rotary International and The Sir Emeka Offor Foundation to produce an ingenious audio device, a speaking book, called “Yes to Health, No to Polio.” It is a seminal work of Books of Hope LLC. The Foundation’s commitment of a total of $152,000 (N60.8 million) covered for the production of 15,000 copies of dual language (Hausa and English) audio books. The Speaking Books are expected to impact 1.5 million households, as each VCM visits, on average, 100 households.
Endorsed by Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI), the “Yes to Health, No to Polio” speaking book was targeted at the hard-to-reach communities in the northern Nigeria.
The colorful pictorial storybook, complemented by the dual language audio, tells the story of a young boy whose mission is to educate his family and community about the importance of hygiene and what measures they needed to take to prevent the spread of polio. With this new tool, UNICEF reports that VCMs have recorded great success in being key drivers in the sensitization efforts and routine immunization exercises. “Yes to Health, No to Polio” was among the important strategies that contributed to a zero transmission for almost two years in Nigeria.
In the ears of many public health interests, the emergence of polio Speaking Books signals a winning sound and hope for Nigeria’s polio End Game. In spite of the recent unfortunate setback caused by an outbreak of three new cases in Borno State, the country remains dedicated to eradication of polio. What have become indispensable are steady hands by government agencies regarding continued strategy implementations, sustained awareness and broad surveillance across border, and continued funding from donor groups.
*Dr. Edwin Ndukwe is an International development consultant email@example.com