Month: February 2019

Clubs in Brazil help vaccinate 11 million children

Rotary clubs blanket Brazil with polio and measles vaccinations

 Members help reverse trend of plummeting immunizations by reaching 11 million children

By Luiz Renato Dantas

Rotary clubs in Brazil mobilized to help stave off a potential polio outbreak after dangerously low vaccination rates were reported by health officials last year. More than 11 million Brazilian children were inoculated during a massive two-month vaccination campaign, reversing a trend of plummeting immunization coverage. 

Brazil Rotary clubs held End Polio Now vaccination festivals, which included food, entertainment, local celebrities, games.

The government said more than 300 cities in the country had low rates of vaccination against diseases such as influenza, measles, and polio. The Ministry of Health called the situation “extremely serious.” 

Measles were spreading in an outbreak that eventually sickened more than 1,500 people in Brazil. Health officials worried that poliovirus could also re-emerge. Brazil’s massive national immunization campaign from 6 August to 28 September aimed to vaccinate at least 95 percent of children ages one to five. 

The measles cases were concentrated in the northern states where thousands of Venezuelan refugees have crossed the border to escape economic and political hardships. Many haven’t been immunized, because Venezuela’s health system is in crisis. 

Rotary leaders in Brazil found the possibility that poliovirus could resurge frightening, said Marcelo Haick, a regional coordinator for Rotary’s End Polio Now initiative. They knew they had to help health workers reach the millions of children who might be vulnerable to the paralyzing disease.

“The campaign was a success,” says Haick, a member of the Rotary Club of Santos-Praia in São Paulo state. “To our great surprise, clubs throughout the country responded in a way unlike anything we have ever seen.”

More than 11 million children were vaccinated during the initiative, reaching the government’s goal of 95 percent coverage, the target recommended by the World Health Organization. 

Rotary members went to events and high-risk communities to announce the vaccination campaign. 

According to Haick, every Rotary club in the country participated in the campaign in some way. 

Clubs and districts promoted the vaccinations. A majority of clubs, says Haick, produced leaflets and distributed them at schools and at busy street crossings. 

Some used other methods to draw attention to the cause: 

  • The International Fellowship of Motorcycling Rotarians rode through the city of Jundiaí, São Paulo, with End Polio Now banners attached to their motorcycles. 
  • Dozens of clubs held End Polio Now vaccination festivals, which included food, entertainment, local celebrities, games — and oral polio vaccine drops. Health officials vaccinated the children who attended. 
  • Clubs installed lighted signs along major highways. 
  • At a major football game, club members in District 4670 took the field during intermission to display a huge End Polio Now banner. Clubs across the country used other sporting events, including bicycle races and marathons, to promote the vaccinations. 
  • Haick and other End Polio Now coordinators encouraged clubs to adopt vaccination centers. Clubs were also encouraged to contact local politicians and health officials at these centers. 
  • Clubs used Facebook and other social media platforms to post informational ads. 
  • Districts and clubs used trucks to announce information about the vaccination campaign at major social and cultural events and in high-risk communities.  

 Pedro Durão, another End Polio Now coordinator, says Rotary’s awareness campaign was widespread. “It was a mass adoption,” he says. “It was gratifying to see the work done by the clubs and districts throughout Brazil. I’ve been in Rotary since 1991 and have never seen such great enthusiasm.” 

Rotary leaders in Brazil hope the success of this effort can inspire clubs and districts, not only in their country but also in others that are at risk of a resurgence of polio, to continue to raise awareness of the importance of polio immunization and other potentially lifesaving vaccinations.

• This story was adapted from Revista Rotary Brasil.

Rotary members, including those in District 4670, used sporting events to promote polio vaccinations.

https://www.rotary.org/en/rotary-clubs-brazil-vaccinate-11-million-children

Polio first responder 

Female surveillance officer for WHO pushes through gender-related obstacles to help eradicate polio from Pakistan 

Dr. Ujala Nayyar dreams, both figuratively and literally, about a world that is free from polio. Nayar, the World Health Organization in Pakistan’s Punjab province, says she often imagines the outcome of her work in her sleep.

In her waking life, she leads a team of health workers who crisscross Punjab to hunt down every potential incidence of poliovirus, testing sewage and investigating any reports of paralysis that might be polio. Pakistan is one of just two countries that continue to report cases of polio caused by the wild virus. 

Dr. Nayyar

Dr. Ujala Nayyar, surveillance officer for WHO, talks about polio eradication efforts in Pakistan. 

In addition to the challenges of polio surveillance, Nayyor faces substantial gender-related barriers that, at times, hinder her team’s ability to count cases and take environmental samples. From households to security checkpoints, she encounters resistance from men. But her tactic is to push past the barriers with a balance of sensitivity and assertiveness.  

“I’m not very polite,” Nayyar said with a chuckle during an interview at Rotary’s World Poio Day event. “We don’t have time to be stopped. Ending polio is urgent and time-sensitive.”

Women are critical in the fight against polio, Nayyar says. About 56 percent of frontline workers in Pakistan are women. More than 70 percent of mothers in Pakistan prefer to have women vaccinate their children. 

That hasn’t stopped families from slamming doors in health wokers’ faces, though. When polio is detected in a community, teams have to make repeated visits to each home to ensure that every child is protected by the vaccine. Multiple vaccinations add to the skepticism and anger that some parents express. It’s an attitude that Nayyar and other health workers deal with daily. 

“You can’t react negatively in those situations. It’s important to listen. Our female workers are the best at that,” says Nayyar. 

With polio on the verge of eradication, surveillance activities, which, Nayyar calls the “back of polio eradication”, have never been more important. 

  • 56.00%

    of front-line workers in Pakistan are female

  • 90.00%

    of front-line workers in Nigeria are female

Q: What exactly does polio surveillance involve?

A: There are two types of surveillance systems. One is surveillance of cases of acute flaccid paralysis (AFP), and the second is environmental surveillance. The surveillance process continues after eradication. 

Q: How are you made aware of potential polio cases?

A: There’s a network of reporting sites. They include all the medical facilities, the government, and the hospitals, plus informal health care providers and community leaders. The level of awareness is so high, and our community education has worked so well, that sometimes the parents call us directly.

Q: What happens if evidence of poliovirus is found?

Dr. Ujala Nayyar, the surveillance officer for the World Health Organization in Punjab, Pakistan, navigates through barriers to hunt down cases of polio. 

Monika Lozinska/Rotary International

A: In response to cases in humans as well as cases detected in the environment, we implement three rounds of supplementary immunization campaigns. The scope of our response depends on the epidemiology and our risk assessment. We look at the drainage systems. Some systems are filtered, but there are also areas that have open drains. We have maps of the sewer systems. We either cover the specific drainage areas or we do an expanded response in a larger area.

Q: What are the special challenges in Pakistan?

A: We have mobile populations that are at high risk, and we have special health camps for these populations. Routine vaccination is every child’s right, but because of poverty and lack of education, many of these people are not accessing these services. 

Q: How do you convince people who are skeptical about the polio vaccine?

A: We have community mobilizers who tell people about the benefits of the vaccine. We have made it this far in the program only because of these frontline workers. One issue we are facing right now is that people are tired of vaccination. If a positive environmental sample has been found in the vicinity, then we have to go back three times within a very short time period. Every month you go to their doorstep, you knock on the door. There are times when people throw garbage. It has happened to me. But we do not react. We have to tolerate their anger; we have to listen.

Q: What role does Rotary play in what you do?

A: Whenever I need anything, I call on Rotary. Unbrellas for the teams? Call Rotary. Train tickets? Call Rotary. It’s the longest-running eradication program in the history of public health, but still the support of Rotary is there. 

https://www.rotary.org/en/polio-surveillance-officer-virus-pakistan

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