KHARTOUM, Sudan (December 14, 2011)—Rahma Sid Ahmed pores over a roughly drawn pencil map that will help her locate children under age five. She is part of a team of vaccinators who have come to the Al Shagara neighborhood, in southern Khartoum, to immunize all children under five against the crippling polio virus.
Wearing sunshine yellow aprons, she and her partners meander down dusty paths, knocking on each door they pass. A colleague carries a cold box of polio vaccines, ready to inoculate any child under the age of five they encounter.
They take no chances, checking every house for newborns, visitors or people who have arrived from conflict zones around the country.
Soon they come across Shama Adel and her 7-month-old son Mohamed, both new to the neighborhood. Their family fled conflict in South Kordofan, a state in south-western Sudan, only a few months ago. Ms. Ahmed's team quickly begins administering the oral polio vaccine (OPV) to Mohamed.
"He received some vaccine doses in Kadugli," in South Kordofan, his mother says. "But I am really thankful he got follow-up doses here, completing what was started."
Mohamed was one of more than 6 million children in 12 of Sudan's 15 states targeted by the immunization campaign — the fourth such campaign conducted this year. The drive also administers vitamin A supplements to children, helping prevent night blindness and improving their immunity to diseases.
"For Sudan to remain free of polio cases, it is critical that we reach every child in each round,"said Dr. Zahir Mohamed Alamin, who supervises primary health clinics in a large part of Khartoum.
Dr. Zahir and his team of 830 volunteers, supervisors and team leaders are committed to ensuring the campaign covers all newly arrived internally displaced people.
"It is not easy, especially with mass population movement," he said. "So keeping track of the increase and fall in the target population is the key challenge in Khartoum, which is both a destination and a transit point."
Sudan's last reported polio case was in 2009. But the continuing circulation of the disease in neighboring countries makes further polio immunization rounds essential.
UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Health and partners led by the World Health Organization to support the effort. UNICEF supports procurement of vaccines for the campaigns as well as advocacy, planning, training, supervision and monitoring.
Sudan's polio vaccination campaign also receives financial support from a number of donors including the governments of Canada, France, Japan, Saudi Arabia and the United States; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and Rotary International.
UNICEF and partners are also backing efforts to eradicate polio globally, helping ensure that children like Mohamed get a healthy start in life.