Intended for healthcare professionals


Polio: getting ready for the day after eradication

BMJ 2019; 366 doi: (Published 23 August 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;366:l5235
  1. Martina Merten, freelance healthcare journalist
  1. Berlin, Germany
  1. info{at}

This week marks the third anniversary of the last reported case of polio in Nigeria. Martina Merten reports that the Global Polio Eradication Initiative and the Nigerian government are already making use of trained polio workers to fight other diseases

Ramatu Abdullahi, a Nigerian woman in her mid-40s, starts work at 6 am. Slowly she walks from house to house in Arbamiyya, a small settlement near the city of Kano. The only protection from the already blazing sun is her lightweight, blue cotton robe, which she wears on top of her brown polka dot dress. Sometimes, even if only briefly, she is able to rest in the shadow of one of the small stone houses.

Abdullahi is checking the houses for letters marked on their walls. She points at one and smiles. “The combination of these letters means we have already checked all children of the household,” she says. If she doesn’t see the letters, she makes a visit and encourages the family to participate in the next vaccination day.

Abdullahi is one of 3800 voluntary community mobilisers (VCMs) working for Unicef in the northern state of Kano, the most populous state of Nigeria. Since February 2012, Unicef has sent out 17 000 VCMs throughout Nigeria to offer polio vaccination.

Over the years the scope of their activities has grown, says Evelyn Anthony, who manages a network of Unicef mobilisers in the area around Arbamiyya. Today, says Anthony, VCMs make sure people know about basic hygiene, antenatal care, malaria prevention, and immunisation in general. “Polio …

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