Eritrea, 30 June: Measles protection for life
By Kutloano Leshomo
Shieb, Eritrea: 30 June 2010 - Amina, a 24- year-old mother of five children, has brought three of them to a vaccination site for measles in Shieb, Northern Red Sea region. Amina, as so many other mothers, heard about vaccination through radio. This is part of the effort by the Ministry of Health and partners such as UNICEF to create awareness among care-takers. But Amina has come, mainly because she understands too well the benefits of the immunization, having had measles as a child. “I came with my children because I wanted to prevent them from getting sick. I know what measles can do to children as I experienced one of the outbreaks,” she says, as she looks at her children.
Amina signifies the tenacity and intensity with which the Government of Eritrea often mobilizes its people against health risks, a feat which has positioned it on the path to achieving the Millennium Development Goal Four. A major concern after independence was that large numbers of older children had not been fully immunized due to the turmoil and disruption characterizing the period before independence and the subsequent conflict in the late 1990s. In 2003, the Ministry of Health organized a broad-based campaign to identify children who had not been immunized previously and provide boosters for children who had already received at least one dose of measles vaccine. A wide variety of local actors, including local administrators, community leaders, religious leaders, youth and women’s associations, community health workers and the police and military are involved in the social mobilization. Donkeys and camels are often used to carry vaccines and volunteers to remote communities.
These supplementary immunization activities are carried regularly to provide outreach services. As a result, measles no longer poses a major threat to children in Eritrea. Since 2006, there have been no measles deaths, indicating that the disease is being effectively controlled. Most children receive a dose at nine months through routine health care, while others are reached during the outreach programmes such as this one. The social mobilization seems to have so much impact as evidenced by the turnout of mothers to these outreach activities. “I am very happy that somebody cares about the people in my village, especially for the children,” Amina says after the outreach vaccination.