For a National Immunisation Day (NID) it was an unusually late start to the day compared with other countries I have done these campaigns and also considering the daily temperature in Juba, South Sudan almost always peaks above 40°C. In the short week I have been in South Sudan, I feel a strange sense of hope in the cooler two-hour window after sunrise before the sun gets high enough above the horizon to start baking the ground and demoralise most hopes for the day. But I am not here to talk about the weather!
It is day 2 of round 1 of 4 for the polio National Immunisation Days (NIDs) planned in South Sudan this year. I am with my counterpart, Melis, also from the CDC Stop Transmission of Polio (STOP) program working with the World Health Organisation on the ground in South Sudan. Melis has been a STOP team member in South Sudan since 2011 – a little longer than the week I have been here.
Melis is from Ethiopia with a history of public health work there. In October 2011 he took on his first STOP assignment in South Sudan and since that time he has worked with WHO South Sudan around the country with most of his time in the remote, often more fragile and certainly most challenging regions of rural South Sudan. Some of this time was spent living in emergency shelter tents in knee deep mud, or waiting anxiously for a flight out during an armed conflict, something for most of us beyond imagination. We then have to consider what it must be like for the locals living their daily lives in these conditions.
Melis knows the work as a STOP surveillance consultant is often in difficult conditions facing challenges, many of which don’t have quick solutions anytime soon. However he does this repeatedly over the years leaving his family behind to only see them for about six weeks a year. Some may think the culture shock for Africans within their own continent must be minimal but in fact it is huge – language, food, often no places to fulfil their faith needs, limited technology on assignment or at home to connect with their loved ones and coming from cultures where it is not common to choose to travel to new places and work in new cultures.
So what does Melis do on a typical work day that also consists of an NID? Firstly Melis, despite the cultural differences and challenges has to be a skilled communicator. His job is to essentially find faults and mistakes in current systems, to point them out and strengthen them. Luckily Melis has learnt to find the best in people and situations and offers alternatives that hope to add valuable contributions to their work and the work of the system. Melis also needs to have highly technical skills and cover many angles in an NID like today – tally sheets, the cold-chain process, house marking, Acute Flaccid Paralysis (AFP) case detection, movement plans and maps, social mobilisation and more!
But here’s the thing…
Melis is just 1 of 22 other STOP team members in South Sudan, some who have been here for 5 years or more. These 22 include just a few of the over 100 STOPers trained by CDC and released for their first STOP assignment each six months. Those STOPers are just a handful of the 1000’s since the program started before the start of the new millennium.
While we cannot all be STOP team members, as it is a highly skilled, competitive and deeply committed role to take on, what we can do is be in support of not only STOP team members but also millions of others in the world who volunteer as vaccinators for campaigns and the healthcare workers engaged to strengthen local, national and global health.
Any of us can join in to be an important link in the chain of polio eradication and better global health for all. If we support good people, like Melis, doing good things we become a part of that movement and bolster and expand good things to more people who need them.
You might like to think about any of the following actions to support:
- Share this story or other similar stories with others to heighten their awareness and education in polio eradication and global health
- Talk with your neighbours, friends, colleagues and share information, ideas and inspiration to encourage greater learning and understanding of development issues
- Get involved in the CDC STOP program if you have the right background and skills in health, communications or data collation http://www.cdc.gov/polio/stop/
- Write to your local Member of Parliament or leaders about the importance of foreign aid to stop the unprecedented cuts that have been taking place worldwide. If you are new to this form of advocacy see RESULTS for more tips results.org
- Donate to any of the polio eradication partners in Rotary International, UNICEF, WHO, CDC, Gates Foundation and others working in global health
- Sign up to join in an award and reward program for schools and businesses called Polio Points where people do good things and it translates into vaccines on the ground http://www.vivoandpoliopoints.org and firstname.lastname@example.org
- Add a message of appreciation and encouragement to this post to pass onto STOP team members, healthcare workers, vaccinators, volunteers and more…
Thank you Melis for your work today and every day and let us continue to see us get closer to seeing a polio-free world for everyone, everywhere, forever!