To mark World Polio Day (24 November), Harry Rogers, RESULTS’ Parliamentary Advocacy Officer for Child Health, interviews Edmund Duodu, a community vaccinator in Ghana, to hear how his work is going.

When we think of health, the year 2020 will forever be dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic. As we celebrate World Polio Day this year, we’re reminded of another infectious disease, once so prominent in the public’s consciousness, now fading into history due to the remarkable efforts to eradicate it. The efforts to reach eradication have been astonishing, and with only Afghanistan and Pakistan still suffering from endemic wild polio, the fight is close to being won.

Complacency, however, is the biggest problem we face, with the COVID-19 pandemic significantly affecting polio immunisation efforts, and a rise in cases has been seen in both Afghanistan and Pakistan as immunisation programmes have been halted. This worrying growth in cases reminds us of the difficulties associated with reaching every last child with polio vaccines. To mark World Polio Day this year, we have been fortunate enough to conduct an interview with Edmund Duodu, a community vaccinator in Ghana. His story reminds us of the immense selflessness of those people who seek to protect children all over the world, and I’m sure you will find it as inspiring as I do.

Hi Edmund, thanks very much for agreeing to talk to us as we celebrate World Polio Day together! To start with, we’d love to hear about a typical day for you as a community polio vaccinator in Ghana.

Edmund: On a polio immunization day, I would have to estimate the number of polio vaccines needed for an outreach. I then have to pick the vaccines from the refrigerator. In Ghana, with the inclusion of community health volunteers, they are very helpful by mobilising care-givers for the session. In a fixed post immunisation, care-givers bring their children for immunisation whilst during outreach services, I will need to move from one house to the other. When there is a missed child, I will need to trace these children to get them immunised. As a vaccinator, my aim is not to miss any child due for polio in my community and no matter where they are, I have no excuse than to vaccinate them.

Harry: What are some of the key challenges you face to ensure all of these children you mentioned get the vaccinations they need? And have any of these challenges been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Edmund: There are many challenges! The logistical challenges arise due to the poor nature of roads, so we sometimes use boats on the river to reach the children which affects accessibility. Other challenges include shortages of polio vaccines, and inadequate vaccine refrigerators. This is due to the absence of electricity in most communities, a challenge as vaccines have to be kept at places with electricity to keep them cold. Another challenge has been culture: as has been seen in many other countries, including countries in West Africa, we experience community cultural and religious practices that can be challenging to overcome.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected coverage in immunisation activities due to the fear of being infected; some care-givers are not visiting immunisation sites. During the lock-down, we were asked to put on hold all outreach immunisation programs and this made us miss some children due for immunisation. Inadequate resources, motorbikes, finances and currently personal protective equipment has also had an impact.

Harry: What are some of the methods you’ve had to use to find some of the hardest to reach communities? 

Edmund: By travelling on motorbikes and use of outboard motors to reach children on the island communities. In some instances, we have to put up tents in hard to reach communities and spend the night before moving to a different community.

Harry: In addition to vaccines, what other services do you provide to your communities?

Edmund: Many services! Health education and promotion; maternal, child health and nutrition; family planning; management of acute illness; disease surveillance and control (HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, etc); water, sanitation and hygiene.

Harry: Why is there a need to maintain focus on polio eradication? 

Edmund: Growing up, I saw some of my peers being paralyzed. As a child, I did not know it was polio then. These were children who did not get vaccinated against polio and had to deal with their paralysis the rest of their life. If we eradicate polio, it means we won’t have any child getting paralyzed. It means we will have a world free of polio and all children will be healthy. This can only be achieved through polio vaccination. I want to see this dream become a reality soon.

Harry: Thank you Edmund for speaking to us this World Polio Day!

Find out more about polio eradication in the Africa region, and you can also read more about Edmund’s work here, or listen to him speaking to our grassroots campaginers (April 2019).