The good news of polio eradication in Africa - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Polio vaccination (Photo © UNF/Christine McNab)

The recent news from the World Health Organization, declaring that wild polio has been eradicated in Africa, reminded me of my own part in this decades-long public health campaign.

Father Tim Galvin, SPS, and Maryknoll lay missioner Marty Roers on the Kauto Plateau in the year 2000 (Photo by Susan Nagele)

I was privileged to work on the polio eradication campaign in Toposaland in what is now South Sudan from 1997 until 2003. There was a place called the Kauto plateau above our mission at Good Shepherd Parish in Nanyanacor. We trained local health care workers to take the polio vaccine up to the plateau for distribution. So one day I sent off two strapping young Toposa men with 1,000 doses of polio vaccine in cool boxes with tally sheets.

They were to place three drops of vaccine in the mouth of every child and make a tick on the sheet. Of course, there is always wastage when the dropper misses its mark or the kid spits it out and the drops have to be repeated. We aimed for 80 percent distribution, expecting 20 percent wastage according to World Health Organization (WHO) protocols.

The young men came back a couple of days later with their tally sheets carefully marked to record the distribution of 1,100 doses!

I was never sure exactly what happened up there in the far reaches of Toposaland. But on August 26, 2020 the WHO declared that polio has been eradicated from the continent of Africa. This joyful news capped 24 years of the Kick Polio Out of Africa Campaign, started by Nelson Mandela in 1996.

Somehow, over the decades, the two young Toposa men and countless others across Africa did what needed to be done!

Susan Nagele
Susan Nagele served as a Maryknoll lay missioner from 1984 until 2020. For 33 of those years, she practiced as a physician in East Africa (Tanzania, Sudan and Kenya). She is the 2012 recipient of the Medal of Valor of the American Medical Association.