|© UNICEF Somalia/2008/Shepherd-Johnson|
|Warda, age four, holds her immunization card as she waits to be seen by the Child Health Day team at the health centre in Hargeisa, Somalia.|
By Denise Shepherd-Johnson
HARGEISA, Somalia, 2 January 2009 – Ahmed Mahamoud says that he had been too busy to take his son to be vaccinated. His son Shafie, age six, is living with the consequences—he contracted measles during a recent outbreak in Northwest Somalia.
Shafie is lucky to be alive, and is now recovering. Many children in Somalia, where one child in seven dies before the age of five, are not as fortunate.
Ahmed Mahamoud knows now that he made a potentially fatal mistake. He is learning about the benefits of immunization on the radio and via mobile loudspeaker messages that promote the Child Health Days (CHD) campaign. He is even encouraging others in his community take their children to receive the life-saving immunizations so as to avoid his son’s misfortune.
“His mother is in the USA, and I’m away at work every day. There was no-one to take my son to the health centre. However, when a health worker came around to tell us that the child health team would be coming to our area, I told my friends and neighbours about it,” explained Mr. Mahamoud.
In partnership with local authorities, UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) are protecting children under five from preventable diseases and water-borne illnesses. They are working to reduce malnutrition and safeguard women against neonatal tetanus in child delivery.
The interventions include immunizations against measles, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus and polio as well as Vitamin A supplementation, de-worming, among others.
Muna, a young mother, also took of advantage of the Child Health Days community outreach programme to have her two children immunized. Her baby, just 40 days old, received polio drops, while her eldest, aged 18 months, was screened for malnutrition, de-wormed and vaccinated against polio, DPT and measles.
“I didn’t go to the health centre to get the children immunized before because I didn’t know it was important,” said Muna. “After getting information on the radio, I now know that it is.”
Child health for rural areas
More than 800 field teams are taking the Child Health Days campaign to urban and rural areas of Northwest Somali, setting up immunization posts in prominent community areas as well as in schools, health centres and around Mosques.
In January, Child Health Days will begin in Northeast Somalia and in Central Southern Somalia. The second round of Child Health Days will take place in six months.
The campaign is made possible with the support of Denmark, Japan, the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Canadian Committee for UNICEF, USAID and the UN Foundation.