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From: Water – Footsteps 51

Improving access to sufficient, safe water

Children are proving to be a new force in the move to protect babies from diseases and to stamp out polio.

‘New babies should receive protection from four types of vaccine before their first birthday. They also need these vaccines at special times. For example, they need measles vaccine when they are nine months old and they need three doses of polio vaccine before they are four months.’

Is this a medical expert speaking? No – it’s a ten year old girl, Omba, from Mandeleo Primary School, in Kolwezi, Democratic Republic of Congo. Omba and her classmates are the new force for raising immunisation rates and looking out for cases of paralysis which can indicate polio. Children in five schools in Kolwezi have been learning all about immunisations and why they are so important. Then they check in their own communities to make sure new babies are getting the protection they should.

We adopt up to five babies – but actually I have six,’ says Omba. ‘We help the mothers remember when vaccinations should be done, and tell them why it is important. We write all the details down in our exercise books and often visit the babies.’

Vaccine coverage in this area increased from 50% to 70% between 1999 and 2000 – mostly due to this child-to- child programme. BCG immunisation rates for TB were 99% compared with a national average of 30–50%.

‘Children are a good channel of communication’ says School Director, Madame Eugenie. ‘They can reach their own parents and other children and make them enthusiastic, sometimes much better than adults. They are very observant about details.’

This is also a way of changing behaviour for the future.

Adapted from WHO Press Release No 201.

For further information please contact Mr Valery Abramov, WHO, Avenue Appia, CH-1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland. E-mail: abramovv@who.inthildren

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