In October 2021, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative reported two polio cases in Bissau and one in Biombo, a region neighboring the capital of Guinea-Bissau. The Ministry of Public Health, with assistance from UNICEF, WHO and partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative commenced two polio vaccination campaigns in 2022. “Polio Never Again” vaccinated hundreds of thousands of children in April and June 2022, successfully preventing the spread of the disease, and ensuring that no child in Guinea-Bissau will suffer from polio in the future.
The Vaccination Process in the Polio Vaccination Campaign
Guinea-Bissau’s vaccination campaign involved 3,385 volunteers, split into 677 teams, who traveled door to door in rural communities during the first round of the campaign. UNICEF reports that the campaign began in front of Guinea-Bissau’s Ministry of Public Health on April 27 and decentralized from there. In addition to administering the polio vaccine, teams also administered Vitamin A and Mebendazole.
Upon receiving their vaccinations, vaccination teams marked the children with blue for identification and counted and registered the number of children per household. Purchasing 907,000 doses of polio vaccines and five refrigerators for storage beforehand, the Ministry of Health ensured that the vaccination teams possessed sufficient vaccines when traveling across neighborhoods and villages. Furthermore, Guinea-Bissau’s Community Health Workers (CHWs) strategically planned the targeted households before the start of the campaign, guaranteeing that every child would receive a dose of the polio vaccine.
Succeeding in Spite of Obstacles
Despite the campaign’s eventual success, Guinea-Bissau’s polio vaccination campaign faced several issues throughout the two vaccination rounds. For instance, since Guinea-Bissau contains multiple islands, such as in the Bijagos archipelago which consists of 88 islands, many families frequently traveled between the islands and to the mainland and were hard to track. Coupled with limited transportation methods, vaccination teams often experienced time-consuming routes to vaccinate all children. Fortunately, by frequently interacting with each other, the vaccination teams were able to track down the vast majority of households in Guinea-Bissau.
Another problem that arose during the campaign occurred due to the cashew harvest season, which forced many children to travel to cashew nut fields with their parents. Considering the fact that cashews are among Guinea-Bissau’s top exports, many households rely on cashew harvesting for money, forcing both parents and children alike to take advantage of the short season. Luckily, by consistently interacting and providing updates to one another, the vaccination teams and CHWs were able to track down the majority of households for polio vaccination.
A Brighter Future
By the end of the second vaccination round in June 2022, Guinea-Bissau successfully vaccinated 340,462 children in the nation. With 99.2% of children under 5 vaccinated, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative considered Guinea-Bissau’s polio vaccination campaign a success, with the coordinator of the organization labeling Guinea-Bissau a “pioneer” for reaping such positive results. Furthermore, the vaccination campaign’s strategy also helped create the framework for successive national measles campaigns. Overall, because of such results of its polio vaccination campaign, one can say that Guinea-Bissau has successfully eradicated polio in children for the foreseeable future.
– Emma He