By Erika Mills
During the World Cup, the globe is consumed by The Beautiful Game. Soccer is everywhere—even in public health messages! This poster encouraged parents to have their small children vaccinated against poliomyelitis during the 1998 National Immunization Days in Nigeria. It points out that a healthy child may grow up to play on the national soccer team, a topical twist on an important message, as Nigeria competed in the World Cup that year. “Kick polio out of Nigeria” is the slogan at the bottom of the poster, and in subsequent World Cup tournament years, polio eradication efforts have used similar, soccer-based mantras.
National Immunization Days have been a vital part of polio eradication programs around the world. All children who are 5 years old or younger are taken to designated immunization centers where they receive the oral vaccine, regardless of whether they’ve already had doses in their routine immunizations. A month later, they return for another dose. These large scale efforts must mobilize communities en masse to be effective. According to UNICEF, in 2005, 45 million doses of vaccine were given in Nigeria by 138,220 vaccinators. National Immunization Days, along with routine immunization, surveillance, and targeted “mop up” campaigns to contain outbreaks have cleared the disease from most areas of the world. Today, polio remains endemic in only 3 countries: Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
As the poster suggests, perhaps some of the children who received the vaccine in 1998 grew up to become the soccer stars of today. A few of the Nigerian players competing in the today’s World Cup game were aged 5 or younger back in 1998. Here’s hoping that by the next World Cup, we will have ‘kicked polio out of Nigeria’ for good!