At one house where a team knocked, a mother unlocked the wooden guard door with her two young sons in tow. The sounds of a cartoon echoed from the television in their living room. Only the youngest boy, who was 5, received the oral dose. He came forward hesitantly, while his brother watched with a smile and later examined the little mark on his finger.
Team members also used white chalk to mark the outside of each house they visited so their supervisors knew whether they needed to revisit. Often the initial visit was successful, but sometimes families would refuse the vaccine.
Umar Salihu, one of the team leaders I accompanied, said a big challenge they face is parents who mistrust the vaccinations. His team knocked on the door of Oliver Nwokorie, who confirmed he had a 1-year-old son. But Nwokorie was hesitant: He said he’d heard rumors about side effects and the use of expired vaccines.
Salihu spent a few minutes confirming he came from the hospital and explaining how they coordinate the campaign process. Finally, Nwokorie gave him permission to squeeze out the drops into his son’s mouth.
“I wanted to know the density of what they’re giving, reactions to it, if it’s still valid,” Nwokorie told me.
Over the four days of the campaign, some 207 volunteers stopped at 31,304 homes. The volunteers go through a full day of training and receive a $12 stipend for their work. John Nelson Ifeanyi, one of the lead volunteers, said last year the clinic ran the campaign seven times.
The wild poliovirus became a global epidemic in 1996, when it paralyzed 75,000 children around the world. At the time, former South African President Nelson Mandela launched the Kick Polio out of Africa campaign together with Rotary International.
Oliver Christiaan Rosenbauer, the spokesman for polio eradication at the World Health Organization, told me that just 10 years ago Nigeria was the epicenter of polio transmission, with genetic traces found as far as Indonesia.