Nepal: National Immunization DayStory From a STOP Team Volunteer in the Field
Story From a STOP Team Volunteer in the Field
I feel privileged to be a part of the first STOP team. We are literally racing against time (to eradicate polio). Nepal borders one of the last remaining hotbeds of polio in the world: the northern Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. People cross the border in both directions every day. Our job will be to set up surveillance networks for polio, especially in Nepal’s poor but highly populated Terai districts on the Indian border. We have to know where the disease is and where it isn’t, and we have to move fast. It’s the most exciting job I’ve ever done.
Our first day in Nepal was a National Immunization Day (NID) for polio. Everywhere we saw little tables under blue signs proclaiming in Nepali script, “National Polio Vaccination Day.” There were vaccination teams at bus stops, at the bazaar, in clinics and by the side of the road. In the temple city of Bhaktipur, we saw roving teams going door to door, vaccinating. We saw a tiny parade of uniformed Nepali scouts marching the cobbled streets announcing by megaphone, “Free polio vaccination! All children under five.”
The vaccine is oral: just two drops in the mouth. It’s about the easiest vaccine in the world to give, which is one of the reasons we think polio can be eradicated. No needles, no shots. It was impressive to see how the community mobilized. There were people from all walks of life, all motivated, all pitching in: nurses, midwives, sports clubs, shopkeepers, politicians, and at least one veterinarian (me). Over three million Nepali children received polio vaccine that day. The previous day, India had vaccinated over 130 million children! Support for polio eradication is so universal that even countries in the midst of war have called cease-fires for NIDs. El Salvador, Sudan, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka all have had cease-fires for NIDs.