Six-month old Toshie Fiunakot kicks off special immunisation campaign in Papua New Guinea
Six-month old Toshie Fiunakot is the centre of attention at a packed hall in Caritas Technical School in Port Moresby and he has no idea why he is surrounded by so many people fussing over him.
In a little while, the packed room simultaneously responds with a resounding “oooooh” as soon as his cries are heard through a microphone.
“Toshie has just received his measles immunisation, “explains Dr. Paison Dakulala, Deputy Secretary for Health, National Health Services and Standards, and the crowd cheers in response.
He doesn’t know it yet and he probably couldn’t care less but Toshie is the first baby in the country to receive his measles immunization, oral polio vaccine and vitamin A supplement as Papua New Guinea kick starts its Supplementary Immunisation Activity (SIA).
Immunization against childhood illnesses is an essential part of improving the health and well being of children and it is also among the most successful, most equitable and most cost-effective public health interventions that can be offered to the children and women in Papua New Guinea.
This SIA is a special immunisation campaign that the Department of Health is carrying out in all provinces and districts in the country to immunise children under the age of three for measles and women between the ages of 15 and 45 including pregnant women for tetanus. This is the third time a supplementary immunisation campaign is being carried out in the country. The last two were done in 2008 and 2010.
“It is special because not only are children and pregnant women going to be immunised as it is traditionally done, but women of child bearing age will also have the opportunity to be vaccinated against tetanus, a disease that can cause painful deaths for both the infant and mother,” says UNICEF Representative, Baba Danbappa during the official launch of the SIA on 2nd April at the all-girls Caritas Technical School.
This campaign is also being used as a platform to deliver other preventive and curative health services such as vitamin A supplements to prevent malnutrition and de-worming medicine for intestinal worms. Papua New Guinean children continue to die needlessly from preventable diseases each year.
Infant deaths over the last 15 years do not show any significant decline and maternal deaths in the country remain one of the highest in the Asia Pacific Region.
“Some 57 infants under one year die from every 1,000 live births and 75 per 1000 live births die before reaching the age of five. And up to 733 mothers die from child birth complications for every 100,000 live births recorded,” Health Secretary, Pascoe Kase highlights at the ceremony.
UNICEF, like other key development p artners such as AUSAid and the World Health Organisation, is supporting the government’s immunisation efforts. “As part of UNICEF’s support, we supplied 50 per cent of the measles vaccines and printed over two million Tetanus Toxoid Cards that will be used to record and monitor tetanus vaccines given to women throughout this activity.
We also worked very closely with the Health Promotion Unit of the Health Department providing technical support for the campaigns communication and social mobilisation activities,” Baba explains.
In the 45 days that follow the launch of this campaign, a targeted 800,000 children under three years and around two million women of child bearing age are expected to be immunised. Immunisation clinics will be offered by all health facilities in each province while remote areas of the country will be served by mobile clinics and outreach patrol clinics.
Toshie’s mother, 25-year old Priscilla Mova, also gets a tetanus shot at the same time her son gets his measles shot. She is also the first female to be immunised for tetanus in this campaign and is pleased her son has been immunised.
“I have three older children and all of them were immunised. I’m happy my baby is the first baby to be immunised in this campaign, “says Priscilla.