Once a year in Namibia it is National Immunization Day (NID) which is a series of days whereby the goal is to vaccinate every child under the age of 5 for polio. This is no easy task for a country that has one of the largest land to people ratio, and most of the country is desert. Every year it is a major government campaign and they require a great number of volunteers from the community to help. So we were ready to jump on board.
Daryl and I went to a training day to become “Quality Monitors”. This role involves monitoring the vaccination teams to make sure that they are doing everything as told (correct dosage, proper storage of meds, proper tallying, and so forth) and also going into the villages to do home visits once the vaccination teams had gone through to see if there were any children that were missed. Seem simple? Well, not in Namibia.
The first major problem was the selection of volunteers. We have heard from many foreign workers the challenge of education in Namibia and we got to see some of it first hand. Most of the volunteers looked like they were in their early 20’s but it ranged to a few who were middle aged. The training was done in English, which was helpful for us, but one of the many barriers for them. Yet the problem seemed much more complex then basic English language issues as I was astounded by the lack of comprehension for very basic instructions. After a FULL day of training (when we could learned what we needed in a short session) the volunteers where called upon to review different sections, but many would decline saying they still were not clear, even though we were going out the next day. The crazy thing is that the statistics of how many kids were vaccinated’ collected by these so called “Quality Monitors” were going to become the World Health Organization statistics!!!!!
On the actual day, it was no surprise that things were running behind, as they were struggling to find drivers to take the monitors and vaccination teams into the field. Everything was chaos but I was finally teamed up with another girl and we hopped into the back of a very beaten up truck. We were off to the boonies for the day and it was quite a lot of fun. We had to drive through extremely thick sand (it is a miracle we didn’t get stuck on numerous occasions) into areas with no real road - so to get directions we had to ask the few random walkers where to go and they would point and we would drive. The “roads” were sometimes so narrow that our car barely fit between two trees!
It was a long day of walking between huts and driving crazy roads but we worked hard to do as many home visits as we could. When we got back at 6:30pm, and we collected our data, I was told I needed to stay for the oral report, which ended up taking anther 3 hours. Every group had to discuss their statistics, in English which is already a problem for most of them. The statistics were often interesting. My group was the only one to have come across children who missed the vaccine, which seems unlikely to me that every child was vaccinated in the whole region accept for the ones we came across. Another group said they had visited 51 children and 56 were vaccinated… Even with the head nurse explaining the impossibility of these statistics in their first language they could not comprehend what was wrong. Next time I see a WHO stat, I will take it with a grain of salt.
It was a very interesting experience.
(Photo is of the caregivers and kids under 5 lining up for their oral vaccine).