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The remarkable efforts to keep Ethiopia polio-free

Zacharias Abubeker /RESULTS UK

Earlier this year, Laura Kerr from RESULTS UK visited Ethiopia to see what they were doing to remain polio-free.

Imagine working in a health outpost in Ethiopia where one of your main tasks is to provide life-saving vaccinations that have to be stored below 8°c, all without a fridge in sight. Impossible, right?

Earlier this year I visited Bonde Woreda, Ethiopia. It was here I met the incredible Mulu Refera, a health worker who for the last seven years has provided life-saving services to her community. The outpost where she works is miles away from any other medical services, so therefore an essential part of the rural community. And she does everything there- from pregnancy advice to providing vaccinations; it was truly humbling to watch her work. Especially when she does all of this without one single fridge in the outpost.

Results 2.jpgImage: Zacharias Abubeker /RESULTS UK

It’s remarkable the effort it takes to provide vaccinations for Mulu’s local community. It takes a 5k journey for vaccinations to reach the health outpost in a cold box, which has to be returned the same day. A lack of resources as well as a reliable energy supply means that this journey is arduous but necessary. And this isn’t an isolated problem in Ethiopia; in fact the Bonde Woreda trip is one of the more accessible journeys for vaccinators. 80% of Ethiopia's population live in rural settings, often a lot more inaccesible than Bonde Woreda, which makes vaccination efforts that more perilous.

Despite challenges like this, health workers in Ethiopia have done everything they can to curb the spread of polio. In 2013, an outbreak swept across the Horn of Africa, threatening the progress Ethiopia had made to eliminate the disease and retain a regional polio free status. It was vital that the hard work and efforts were not undone, so comprehensive national immunisation days were set up- 20 in total. Armies of volunteers travelled from door to door, ensuring every child received their polio vaccination. This was no easy job as unlike Mulu, most of the people in Ethiopia live miles from a tarmacked road and live in large nomadic populations. Despite adverse conditions, Ethiopia showed us that a quick, coordinated response could stop a disease in its tracks.

I was extremely humbled by Mulu and the effort she goes to to help her community; it’s people like her who are eradicating this horrific disease. But we in the UK can also play our part. For a long time now, the UK has been a strong supporter of polio eradication, and with continued support from DfID, along with countries like the U.S, Australia and Canada, health workers like Mulu will stand a fighting chance of ridding the world of polio, once and for all.