By Chris Offer, Rotary Club of Ladner, British Columbia, Canada
In late August 2016, I had the extraordinary opportunity to be in the National Polio Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in Abuja, Nigeria. The center was activated to manage the response to two polio cases confirmed in Borno State.
I was in Nigeria as part of a Polio External Review team with the World Health Organization, CDC, and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that had been planned months before. But with the discovery of new polio cases, our focus shifted.
As a retired senior police officer, I’m familiar with the use of a central command center to deal with emergencies. The strategy to bring key decision makers into one room from all participating agencies is an effective way to manage emergencies. Communications is face-to-face and decisions are not delayed.
In 2012, emergency centers were established in the capital of Abuja and Nigeria’s northern states with the highest polio infection rates. Nigerian government health agencies, Rotary International, UNICEF, WHO, CDC, USAID, and the Gates Foundation are all involved. Rotary is represented by a member of the Nigeria National PolioPlus Committee.
The centers provides fully-equipped office space, fast internet access, modern communications equipment, and backup generators. This is particularly important for polio workers in rural areas or areas that are not secure.
Military provides security
While I was at the center, an emergency teleconference was held between the national and the Borno emergency operation centers which confirmed the use of military personal to provide security for polio vaccinators and military helicopters to deliver vaccine. The conference also approved the dispatch of hundreds of thousands of doses of polio vaccine and verified time lines for vaccination to be completed.
The parties discussed the challenge of the nearly two million people living in camps for Internally Displaced Persons.These are people who have been forced to move by the Boko Haram terrorists in Borno. Vaccination of children in the accessible camps is under way, but hundreds of thousands of children are in camps that are inaccessible. The military is working to regain control of the area, but about half the state is inaccessible.
I was impressed to see the emergency response to the new polio cases. Children are being vaccinated. Border countries in the Lake Chad area have joined the response and are vaccinating children. The Rotary Foundation has allocated $500,000 in emergency funds.
For all Rotarians, the new polio cases were disappointing. For the two children, who already live in poverty and have had to flee their homes, polio is devastating. This is why we will continue fighting this disease until we finally eradicate it and keep our promise to the children of the world.
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