Surprisingly, the toughest resistance to the vaccination of children against the debilitating disease is from residents of Bafoussam, Douala and Yaounde.
Cameroon has made huge gains since the launch in 1988 of the global initiative to eradicate polio. With Polio Type 2 and Polio Type 3 so far eradicated. "But this is not a permanent status," warns Zenabou Simpore, Polio Vaccination Coordinator for the United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, Cameroon. "As long as all polio types have not been eliminated across the globe, there is still strong possibility of resurgence or re-infection," Simpore points out.
Despite the progress made, Zenabou says polio vaccination in Cameroon has over the years been hampered - amongst other factors - by the low level of perception of the risks posed by the debilitating disease. "Some people argue that they have never seen anyone crippled by polio. Others insist that there are no more polio cases in their communities; implying that the disease no longer exists. And they are therefore not ready to allow their children to be vaccinated," the UNICEF official notes.
Low risk perception also persists, Simpore says, because some parents maintain that their children aged below five years have been sufficiently vaccinated against polio. And so there is no need to continue to vaccinate them. On the other hand, some parents are not sufficiently informed about the risks of the disease. "No parent will bring a child into this world and deliberately allow them to be destroyed by polio," Zenabou holds.
Some parents deny vaccination teams entry into their homes. While others avow that they can only accept the vaccination of their children if t is performed by family paediatricians. "That is why we work with paediatricians so that they tell their patients to allow access to vaccination teams," Zenabou explains.
Yet, other people reject polio vaccination for rejecting sake! Or because they heard some rumours against it. This is why UNICEF and partners embark on sustained communication before vaccination campaigns. Also, anti-polio vaccination rumours are regularly collected, analysed and the appropriate sensitisation messages developed to counter them, says Simpore.
Meanwhile, for a polio vaccination campaign to be considered as being successful, the percentage of targetted parents who refuse their children to be immunised must not be more than 5 per cent of the total. Surprisingly, the toughest resistance in the past 10 years to the vaccination of children against the disease in Cameroon comes from residents of Bafoussam, Douala and Yaounde, Zenabou discloses. With polio campaign vaccination refusal rates in the three cities oscillating between 5 and 7 per cent.
One would have expected city residents to be better informed and willing to take action on the benefits of vaccination than people in rural areas. "Perhaps city people receive too much information that they need to decipher what is wrong and what is true!" the UNICEF Cameroon Vaccination Coordinator responds jokingly! On a serious note, she says the trend might be attributable to "polio fatigue." With some parents complaining of too many polio vaccination campaigns.
"So long as a child is below the age of five, they can be vaccinated as many times as possible - and there is no vaccine overdose. The more the number of times a child is vaccinated against polio, the body stands higher chances of resisting any infection attempt. It is also not true that too many vaccines can accumulate in the child's body and later cause problem. The leftover is always flushed out through faeces," Simpore underscores.
Meanwhile, the history of polio vaccination in Cameroon shows that there has never been any indigenous virus. All the cases were imported from neighbouring countries. "This is the more reason why Cameroon must continue to strengthen the immunity of its children to stop such contamination," Zenabou Simpore stresses.