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A Healthy Future for Every Child in Nigeria

February 14, 2011

By Eric Porterfield, Director of Global Health Communications

A black colored fingernail might not mean much to you, but for children in Nigeria this month, it’s a life-saving mark and a sign for a healthy future.

I recently traveled to Zamfara, a northern Nigerian state that borders Niger and lies at the foot of the Sahara Desert. I helped monitor and document an Integrated Measles Campaign launched by the Government of Nigeria, UN agencies, and nongovernmental organizations to protect 31 million children against measles and polio.

Nigeria has had recent outbreaks of measles and is one of only four countries that has not stopped the transmission of polio.

On the way to Rijiya, a rural settlement an hour from the nearest town, we passed women walking with sacks of rice on their heads and children in tow, scattered haystacks and Baobab trees, and nomads with cattle or camels grazing for food.

As we entered the town, we headed to greet the religious leader and thank him for his support in having every child immunized. Religious and traditional leaders have played a key role in raising awareness of and participation in vaccination campaigns throughout Nigeria.

While we walked down the main road in the village to the health clinic, children stopped what they were doing and turned to see who was coming to visit, their eyes as wide and as big as they could make them. Mine were equally as big and curious.

We could hear children crying as we approached the clinic. Health workers took a vaccine out of the cooler and loaded it in a needle, while anxious children and their mothers waited their turn in line.

Along with a measles inoculation to children aged nine months to five years, an oral polio vaccine was given to children between zero and five years.

While tears and loud cries often resulted from the needle, some children were more interested to see visitors in the room than about the shot they were about to get. To help ensure that every child is reached to prevent future outbreaks, a health worker marks the fingernail of every child who receives a vaccine with a permanent marker.

With each mark of the pen, I know that we are one step closer to eliminating these terrible diseases and giving children a healthy start at life.

To learn more and to get involved, please visit our pages on measles and polio.