NORTHERN KENYA, 2 January 2013 – A group of professional basketball players from the United States National Basketball Association visited Kenya and learned first-hand about eradicating polio.
Traveling in the Turkana District, players Luc Mbah a Moute, Nick Collison and Dikembe Mutombo joined a hut-to-hut UNICEF campaign to vaccinate all of the children in the area against polio.
“I was actually able to vaccinate some children myself, which was an incredible experience,” said Mr. Collison. “It just made you think of that individual kid, and he’ll avoid getting polio now – and can hopefully live a much better, longer life.”
Challenges to vaccinating children
The father of a 5-year-old girl back in the United States of America, Mr. Collison said his experience among the Turkana people was life-changing in a way he could not have predicted.
Here in Turkana, people live a predominately semi-nomadic life, as families must travel great distances in search of water – not only for themselves, but also for their animals.
This challenge highlights one of the obstacles facing efforts to vaccinate against polio, as children must receive multiple doses of the vaccine.
Outside a small stick hut, Mr. Mutombo, who stands 2.18 metres, bent down and used a piece of chalk to mark the hut as having received another round of the polio vaccine.
“Maybe they will become chiefs”
One of the huts belongs to a man named Ethuron Lokorikipi. He lives there with his wife and three young children. He survives by raising a few goats and selling firewood, which he collects and later sells in a nearby village.
Mr. Lokorikipi welcomes the UNICEF team and quickly gives his approval for his children to be vaccinated. He talks about making sure his children all receive an education.
“I have never attended school,” he says. “I never had the chance. But I see a future for children who attend school. Their life is marching ahead, and they are leading a favourable life. So that is why I want my children to get an education. Maybe they will become chiefs, maybe they will become doctors. It will be a better life.”
Fourteen years ago, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), a partnership among UNICEF, the World Health Organization, Rotary International and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, led an effort to support country governments to immunize all children against polio, a necessary step to stop polio transmission and rid the world of polio. By protecting the children of Kenya against polio, UNICEF is helping them achieve a better life, while also protecting other children in Africa and beyond.
By Thomas Nybo