For 10 years, Ghana was polio-free, and then this year alone 3 cases of ‘type two’ polio was reported in different regions of the country.
The Ghana Health Service with the support of Rotarians swung into action carrying out emergency polio vaccinations and boosters for children who were between the ages of 0 and 4 years, 11 months. My club, the Rotary Club of Accra Ring Road Central joined the health teams working in one district of the country, Ningo-Prampram, comprising six sub-districts: Prampram, Ningo, Afienya, Dawhenya, Nigbenya, and Lekpungunor.
On the 28th of September, I joined a team of 4 Rotarians including our club President Oswald Oduro to support the drive-in Dawhenya. On that day we met at 6 am at the Accra mall to carpool to the district clinic in Dawhenya, a modest facility which provides a variety of health services in the community.
From there we were given Ghana style directions to an area known as 'Peace Be' near community 25, Tema, where we met Eric, our assigned health worker who was carrying a mobile cool bag stocked with vaccines. We then started walking door to door, ringing bells where they existed, banging on gates in some cases, or simply yelling agoo to get the attention of occupants. It was the day after heavy rains so it was tough going.
We trudged through mud being careful not to slip, avoided stray dogs, and went to each dwelling that we came across, whether a wood constructed shack, the local makaranta, or a grandstanding house.
Rotarian President Oswald Oduro vaccinating a child
At each residence, we introduced ourselves, explained our mission and asked if there were any children under the age of 5 present. People were often happy to see us, bringing out their children to be duly vaccinated.
As this was a 'mop-up exercise', some children who had been vaccinated two weeks before received a booster, or sometimes we found that children had been previously vaccinated in schools. This strategy of vaccinating children in schools is clearly a good one where a large number of children can be vaccinated in one go. The previous day a number of Rotarians including members of the Rotary Club of Accra Ring Road Central had joined the Ghana health service to do similar vaccination exercises in school.
Rotarian Kwabena vaccinating children in school
I was personally struck by the commitment of Eric our designated health worker in Dawenya. He stopped mothers in the streets who were carrying babies to check if the children had been vaccinated, often providing advice on nutrition simultaneously. He reminded people to bring their babies to the health centre for regular weigh-ins.
I even heard him advise a man about the importance of family planning emphasising that men needed to play an active role in this regard. It felt good to know that Eric was only one of the thousands of health workers throughout Ghana who work hard day in and day out to improve our country's health systems. It also felt really good to be a Rotarian and to prioritise serving one's community.
The feedback we got from the various heads of the district was also heartwarming. Gifty Ansah, the Ningo Prampram Ghana Health Services Director sent my club this message: “Without your help, we wouldn’t have reached the number of children we dosed with OPV. We vaccinated about 4000+ children more than we did in round zero.”
These are figures from just one district. Just imagine how many more children were vaccinated throughout the entire country in this emergency polio drive. Ghana has been polio-free before, and it is down to each and every one of us to ensure that we get back to that status. Ensure you vaccinate your child against polio and all life-threatening diseases today where those vaccines exist. Keeping Ghana healthy is our collective responsibility.