|© UNICEF video|
|A young child is vaccinated during the Child Health Days campaign targeting families displaced by conflict in Somalia.|
By Iman Morooka
NAIROBI, Kenya, 24 November, 2009 – For the first time ever, a Child Health Days campaign has reached displaced children and women in Somalia’s Afgoye Corridor, a 30 km stretch of road west of Mogadishu that is the world’s most densely populated settlement for the displaced.
Supported by UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) – in close collaboration with local authorities and non-governmental partners – this effort was part of a nationwide programme to promote child survival in Somalia, where one in seven children dies before the age of five and routine immunization coverage is amongst the lowest in the world.
The nationwide campaign aims to immunize every Somali child under five against measles, polio, diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus, and to provide vitamin A supplementation, de-worming tablets and nutritional screenings.
During Child Health Days, undernourished children are referred to feeding programmes, women of child-bearing age are immunized against neonatal tetanus, and health packages are distributed. The packages include oral rehydration salts to treat diarrhoea, and water purification tablets.
The Afgoye Corridor currently hosts over 524,000 people displaced due to the conflict in Mogadishu and in the south. The displaced endure harsh living conditions and lack even the most basic social services.
“Our condition here is very bad,” said Fadumo Barow Mohamed, a displaced mother of six. “We thank God for those who brought us this health service at home. My children were sick, they had diphtheria and measles, but now I hope that they will be fine.”
The five-day campaign in the Afgoye Corridor reached at least 46,000 children under five and 37,000 women of child-bearing age. More than 200 vaccinators and 300 health workers implemented the campaign in Afgoye, making this large-scale programme possible despite poor infrastructure and a lack of appropriate health facilities.
“I went house to house to encourage people to benefit from the services,” said health worker Hawo Islow Abdie. “While some were reluctant in the beginning to receive vaccinations, I didn’t give up and went back to convince them that this is good for their children’s health.”
Child Health Days campaigns were launched in Somalia in December 2008. During the first round, they reached more than 1 million children and 800,000 women. Due to security concerns, however, the Afgoye Corridor and Benadir region were not covered during that round.
“Our recent joint success in implementing this large-scale outreach in the Afgoye area is a testament to how we can make a difference in Somalia, even in the most difficult of circumstances,” said UNICEF Representative in Somalia Rozanne Chorlton.
“The Afgoye Corridor is one of the locations in Somalia where humanitarian access is very challenging, but it is also where the impact of such an intervention is extremely critical due to the high density of population,” she added. “Therefore, bringing the Child Health Days to Afgoye was a key priority. And thanks to the determination of communities and to UNICEF’s and WHO’s extended partnerships on the ground, vulnerable children and women were reached with crucial services.”
The health days are repeated every six months to help promote child survival and boost immunization rates, in addition to promoting demand for public health services among communities. The campaign has already contributed to improving routine immunization rates in Somalia.