As polio cases surged in the African region in 2007, the PAHO Regional Director of the time, Dr. Mirta Roses, sent PAHO staff to WHO/AFRO to support outbreak response efforts. Dr. Ana was selected to go to Nigeria. In a twist of fate, a three-month assignment turned into four years as Nigeria’s Supplementary Immunization Activity (SIA) coordinator.
This experience was pivotal for Dr. Ana’s career – it solidified her passion for polio eradication and introduced her to new colleagues and a new country, which would soon become Dr. Ana’s second family and her home-away-from-home.
Dr. Ana was inspired by the constant innovation she saw in Nigeria. “We were always looking for ways to improve quality of the campaigns – improve training, surveillance, cold chain. It was always innovation, innovation, innovation.”
Dr. Ana believes that way of thinking really took Nigeria to the next level. “We started seeing fewer cases, more children vaccinated, and a higher level of acceptance among parents and leaders.”
As SIA coordinator, Dr. Ana oversaw all polio campaigns in the country. During these years, polio campaigns were happening on an almost monthly basis, alongside campaigns for yellow fever, tetanus elimination, and measles. It was overwhelming “by the time we returned from the field to analyze one campaign, it was already time to start preparation for the next one. It was tiring for everyone – for us (the WHO staff), the partners, for the national/state/local health authorities, and of course for the vaccinators.”
Despite the pressure and constant stress, Dr. Ana said, “If you were to ask me if I would do it again, I would say yes in a heartbeat. For me, it was being a part of an important moment in history – for the country, for public health, and for the polio programme.”
Dr. Ana’s experience in Nigeria still impacts her to this day. “When you have the opportunity to work in different regions of the world, it will enrich your life, your knowledge, your experience. It’s like a suitcase of experience that comes along with you. You take the lessons with you and see how you can apply those lessons in other contexts. It’s not always possible to apply the same lessons in every scenario, but there are aspects that you can use in different scenarios.”