Measles and polio immunization campaign targets 20 million children
PANCHAGARH, Bangladesh, 10 March 2010. On a foggy February morning in Nayabari village, north-western Bangladesh, Johura Begum and her two grandchildren awoke at dawn. They dressed and went to a neighbour's house, joining some 30 other women and children for 'khesra teeka', or measles vaccinations.
Twenty-four children in the neighbourhood would be immunized that day. Each child between nine months and five years of age received a measles vaccination and each child under five received two drops of oral polio vaccine.
On a small wooden table, Sharif Uddin, the local health inspector, organized vials of medicines, disposable syringes and a register to record every vaccination.
The immunization day at Nayabari village was part of a two-week national polio and measles campaign, which ran from 14 to 28 February and targeted about 20 million children under five. In order to ensure widespread participation, community health promoters made loudspeaker announcements and door-to-door visits to families like Johura's in the week prior to the campaign. The messages advised families about the importance of immunization.
UNICEF provided technical and financial support for the effort, which involved more than 50,000 health personnel, as well as 600,000 volunteers and non-governmental organization staff, working at 120,000 vaccination sites nationally. In remote communities such as Nayabari, pre-selected, centrally located houses became temporary immunization clinics.
Sacrificing a day's wages
Panchagarh District, where Nayabari is located, has a high rate of poverty. Most men and women here work as day labourers, digging boulders from rocky terrain and crushing stones.
While many women in the district have a limited education, they are still aware of the benefits of immunization, thanks mainly to the work of community health promoters.
At the immunization site in Nayabari, one mother, Amena Khatun sat with her daughter Mukta, 2, in her lap. "My mother-in-law used to talk about people dying in their thousands from infectious diseases like cholera and tuberculosis," she recalled. "Vaccines now save lives, and we have noticed that fewer children die from these diseases nowadays."
'Fear holds nobody back'
One by one, the children of the village were immunized. Many were frightened of the needles, but the pain was quickly over.
"Fear holds nobody back," said a mother of two toddlers. "Ignoring vaccines for our children means ignoring children's protection from deadly diseases."
The last national measles immunization campaign in Bangladesh was held in 2005-06. It reached about 35 million children, resulting in a drastic reduction in measles rates. This year's campaign aims, in particular, to target children who were born after the last campaign.