The Polio campaign, or my week of feeling like Princess Diana

The last few weeks, as well as the discovery of bird watching in Murchison National Park (worthy of an entire blog nevermind blog post) I have been engaged in the business of polio vaccination. I was asked by a colleague to help supervise a payam (district) with 17,000 children under 5. This is just one of the 16 payams in the County I’m working in. I was totally overwhelmed by the task. I set off to find maps from UNOHCR but this country is changing so quickly that we will need to help with the map writing, and in fact they asked if I could help update the information on which health facilities are functional and which are non functional.

We had training of payam supervisors, training of vaccinators on the Saturday and Sunday before the campaign and then on the morning of the campaign the cold boxes arrived from the EPI unit at the teaching hospital where two of my colleagues were stationed, to a growing group of waiting vaccinators- we had budget for 130 in our area. We filled the small grey boxes with ice blocks and vaccines and the team leaders explained to teams which areas they should cover that day since polio vaccination is done house-to-house. My role during training had been to reinforce the style of house markings, done in chalk on the side of mud tukuls, or on tin walls of houses. I handed out little leaflet reminders of the markings which I’d pulled together with the payam supervisor. The next four days, in between showers and biscuit breaks and with a bright yellow team leader’s cap, I inspected my payam, on foot, in a car, and my particular favourite, standing on the back of a truck. Children are marked on the smallest finger of their left hand to indicate they’ve been vaccinated. I would frequently jump off the truck to check the little fingers of a group of children which was usually enjoyable, depending on whether they were screaming and jumping up and down with excitement to see the kwhaja (white lady) or screaming and running under their mother’s skirts in fear at this white monster who was grinning at them and tentatively reaching out to inspect their hand. I remembered the TV images of Princess Diana on her African trips and de-mining publicity campaigns and had to smile. I looked at house markings, took notes, tried to be encouraging to vaccinators who were being paid a paltry amount for long hours in the relentless Juba heat.

It was a difficult week, even with the luxury of being driven around in a car once or twice. It’s very tiring work, tiring to do, tiring to lead teams, tiring to supervise. Keeping people motivated was difficult. Planning and communicating with dodgy phone networks was difficult. It was difficult to walk in searing heat through areas of Juba with kids who are not going to school and to watch how this city has just exploded- a search on google shows how difficult it is to grasp the size of this city. So many live in semi-temporary structures, and I wonder how things will ever change. The surprise for me was that this door-to-door campaign is a rolling programme and so the next one is November… I am promising myself I’ll be fitter by then…

2 thoughts on “The Polio campaign, or my week of feeling like Princess Diana

  1. Sarah – your blog just gets better and better. God help you. Thanks for sharing your life like this. It’s such an eye opener and brings me right back to the realities I experienced in Zambia. Big hugs from Dublin. (((( ))))

  2. Goodness, love reading about your various days and routine! The Princess Diana movie is about to be released in the UK…coincidence?! Jo xo

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