One of the earliest countries to achieve Universal Child Immunization, Bhutan continues to maintain a very high level of coverage to eliminate all vaccine preventable childhood diseases.
Going the extra mile for children
"I cannot recall anything like this when I was young," said Ap Tshering (left), 68, a villager in Paro district in western Bhutan, referring to the annual National Immunization Day for measles. He laughed: "Maybe that's why people at my age don't feel so healthy now!"
Paro has a population of about 21,000 and on a recent winter morning it set up 74 immunization posts to administer measles vaccine to 12,418 children between the ages of nine months and 15 years. Coinciding with this event in Paro, all children under five living in high risk area for polio were given polio drops, as part of a global effort to eradicate polio.
Many of the children have to come a long way to such posts. Both the dzongdag (district administrator) and the district health officer were confident of keeping the immunization coverage above 90 per cent this year.
Every effort has been made to reach people -- by word of mouth and through the radio, posters and pamphlets, and the mobilization efforts of the gup (village headman), mangi-ap (village leader), chimi (Member of Parliament), village water system caretaker, and village health worker.
In Tsento Drukgel village within sight of the snow-capped Mount Johomolhari, basic health unit auxiliary nurse Chencho Pem (right) prepared to trek for hours and then spend a couple of days vaccinating children in remote hamlets. Trained for two years in midwifery and basic health care in Thimphu, she would have the assistance of soldiers garrisonned nearby.
Elderly villager Ap Tshering, like many people his age who did not have much access to health care in their younger days, appreciates attempts to reach children even in isolated locations.
I have three grandchildren," he revealed. "They are 13 and 15 years old, and one is just 10 months. I suppose I have to bring all of them to the immunization post. I am sure my grandchildren will be much healthier and happier than me, he said.
Bhutan conducts national and sub-national immunization days annually as part of efforts to reach its goal of Health for All.
UNICEF supports the campaign with antigens, provided in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control in the US, the World Health Organization and the Japan International Cooperation Agency/Government of Japan.
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