Vitamin A campaign widens target range
Comilla, Bangladesh, May 29, 2011: Amid the noise of car horns and the traffic congestion, Mohsammat Sharmin briskly crosses a wide busy road with her six-months-old daughter Shuba in her arms, dodging the cars and trucks until she reaches a small marquee buzzing with people.
Sharmin has brought her daughter to a UNICEF-supported Special Mobile Centre to receive a Vitamin-A vaccination. The centre is one of two mobile units set up on busy roadsides in Sadar upazilla in the Comilla district in west Bangladesh and its aim is to attract the attention of passers-by and to encourage them to vaccinate their children with Vitamin A drops.
Across the country, thousands of venues – set up in schools and offices - are distributing vaccinations for the National Vitamin A Plus Campaign (NVAC). The annual campaign has been running for almost a decade and is one of the biggest in Bangladesh. Last year, more than 95 per cent of children aged 12 to 59 months received Vitamin A supplementation and more than 93 per cent infants aged 9 to 11 months received Vitamin A supplementation
This year, as part of a new trial, infants aged six to eight months are eligible to receive the vaccination in seven districts and six-months-old Shuba is one of them. “My grandmother told me to come here,” says her mother, Sharmin. “She lives next door to a hospital and she heard from the workers there that they were vaccinating babies from 6 months onwards, so I stopped by here on the way to a relative’s house.”
Shuba is one of the 900,000 infants between six and eight months who were targeted during the one-day campaign. In the years prior, infants aged nine to 11 months received the vaccine as part of a wider immunisation campaign against measles but following recommendations by the World Health Organisation, it was decided those aged between six and 59 months were to receive the vaccination as part of the specific Vitamin A campaign.
Bangladesh has a poor dietary intake of Vitamin A and less than 40 per cent of pregnant and lactating women receive enough Vitamin A as part of their diets. The supplement protects against night blindness, helps cells function, aids the production of protective red blood cells and boosts the body’s immune system.
Because the campaign also aims to increase awareness around Vitamin A, more than 400,000 volunteers and 60,000 health service providers across Bangladesh assisted in getting people to distribution points, administering the droplets and disseminating information about the importance of Vitamin A and healthy living.
Habibul Rahan spent the whole day weaving in and out of Comilla traffic, trying to persuade passing motorists to stop by the mobile distribution point and have their children vaccinated. The twenty three-year-old says it wasn’t difficult to persuade people once they became aware of the benefits of the vaccination.
“I would stop people on buses and in cars and tell them that getting their children vaccinated would ensure they were protected against blindness and other diseases. Once people knew that all it took was a few minutes they were happy to come out of their vehicles and give their children the droplets. They wouldn’t have stopped otherwise,” says Habibul.
Days prior, messages had been broadcast on television and radio as well as through megaphones attached to the back of moving vehicles. Posters were hung around villages and mosques delivered information to worshippers. Across Comilla mothers brought their children, aunts brought their nieces and nephews and grandfathers carried their grandchildren to distribution points.
At one venue, set up in an office building, nine-year-old Shima Ahkter holds her one-year-old brother Tahir Hussein as he squirms to avoid the droplets “My parents sent me here to get my brother vaccinated because they heard it being broadcast on a microphone near the house,” says Shima.
At another venue, set up in a school, Piara Ahkter clutches her four -year-old nephew with one hand and holds her four-months-old niece with the other as she waits in line for the droplets. “I brought my nephew because my brother couldn’t bring him,” she says. “He receives the vaccinations each time they’re given out but I heard the microphones this morning and that’s how I remembered to come here.”
Piara’s niece is too young for the vaccination but because health service providers are present at most distribution points, familes often seek their advice for younger infants.
“A grandmother came around asking if her 11-day-old granddaughter could receive the vaccination. I told her she was too young but that her mother should exclusively breastfeed her until she is at least six-months-old,” says Dr Habib Abdullah Sohel, the Sadar Upazilla Health and Family Planning Officer.
Since 1997, the prevalence of night blindness in children has been maintained below the 1% threshold that signals a public health problem but on-going support is needed. The NVAC campaign targeting infants from six months is expected to run bi-annually for the next three years. It is being implemented by the Institute of Public Health Nutrition (IPHN), under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, in collaboration with the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) and Primary Health Care. It is supported by UNICEF, the Micronutrient Initiative and WHO.
Donor: Micronutrient Initiative