Kenya, 19 September 2011: In Kenyan camps, vaccine protects Somali refugee children from killer pneumonia
By Manuel Moreno and Kyle O’Donoghue
DADAAB, Kenya, 19 September 2011 – About six months ago, Kenya was one of the first countries in Africa to introduce the pneumococcal vaccine, and children now have access to this life-saving intervention through routine immunization in the Dadaab refugee camps in the north-east of the country.
The Dadaab settlement, comprising more than 430,000 people in three camps, has become the third largest population centre in Kenya, after the capital, Nairobi, and the port city of Mombasa. This number continues to grow dramatically as, on average, some 1,300 Somalis still arrive in Dadaab each day.
With such a high concentration of people there are low hygiene standards and pressure on sanitation services in the camps and the risk of diseases spreading rapidly is ever-present. The pneumococcal vaccine is being supplied to all three refugee reception points in Dadaab to protect all arriving children against one of the most common causes of pneumonia – a leading cause of child deaths around the world.
Special protection for infants
Hubia Aden and her six children are new arrivals in Hagadera, one of the camps around Dadaab. She had to walk for 21 days from Kibiyow in northern Somalia, taking care of all her children by herself during the hard, dangerous journey.
Hubia’s husband stayed in Somalia to look after the household’s three remaining cattle. It was a mutual decision, but she hopes he will join them soon.
During the registration process, Hubia received an initial food ration for three weeks, along with other basic supplies, clothes and shelter. As part of this process, the family was medically screened and her children receive a cocktail of immunizations.
In addition to protection from polio, measles and diphtheria, children under one year of age receive the new pneumococcal vaccine. So Hubia’s youngest child, nine-month-old Mohammed, got one more injection than his siblings.
GAVI Alliance supports roll-out
As part of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization – the GAVI Alliance – UNICEF and the World Health Organization have played a key role in supporting the Kenyan Government’s roll-out of the pneumococcal vaccine nationwide, beginning in February of this year.
In Dadaab, meanwhile, the future for Hubia and her children is uncertain, as it is for most of the new arrivals. They aren’t sure where they will sleep tonight or whether the children will find space in the camp schools that is just opening. But Hubia understands that her children’s immunization is an important first step in beginning their new life in the camp.
Amongst all the unknowns, one thing is certain: They should not fall victim to pneumonia.
Horn of Africa emergency