Chad

In Chad, promoting immunization to fight deadly measles

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Chad/2012/Ferreiro
Parents bring their children to be immunized at a measles vaccination tent outside the Union Hospital in N’Djamena, Chad.

By Josephine Ferreiro

N’DJAMENA, Chad, 21 February 2012 – During the second phase of a measles immunization campaign, in early February, vaccinators were hard at work immunizing long lines of waiting children. 

Josette Bakita has brought two grandchildren to the vaccination tent on a busy dirt road near N’Djamena’s Union Hospital. Ms. Bakita, a social worker at a nearby school, understands the effects of measles and is doing her part to help stop the epidemic.

She has seen parents who do not know how to help their children once they have contracted the disease.

“They are desperate to seek help from traditional healers. I know this can worsen the condition of the child, and sometimes it’s too late and children die,” she said. “Therefore, I try to raise awareness at my church, especially with the mothers, and explain to them how they can vaccinate their children so that they are not in danger.”

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Chad/2012/Ferreiro
Mahamat Kalala, a town crier in Léproserie, south of N’Djamena, Chad, uses his megaphone to announce vaccination campaign dates in three languages.

Raising awareness

Measles is one of the leading causes of death among children under age 5 in Chad. Complications associated with the disease can be especially deadly, and are more common in young children. Among vulnerable populations, such as those with high levels of malnutrition and a lack of adequate health care, as much as 10 per cent of measles cases result in death. Yet the disease is easily prevented with vaccination.

The Ministry of Health in Chad, with the support of the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the Measles Initiative and other partners, has launched a national campaign to immunize all children between ages 6 and 59 months against measles. The campaign was divided into two phases; the first, from 20 to 27 January, was coupled with the polio vaccinations and covered 13 regions, and the second, from 27 January to 2 February, covered the 9 remaining regions.

With UNICEF support, hospitals and health centers are informing communities about the importance of vaccinating children against measles. Health official Martine Batakira sets up a bench and cardboard box as a mobile office outside the vaccination tent in her district of Amkoundjara. Her district is targeting around 6,800 children for immunization.

“Parents wait until the last minute to treat their child, and sometimes it’s already too late. And this is especially true for measles.”

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Chad/2012/Ferreiro
Five-year-old Aboudaja Djime holds her immunization card after receiving the measles vaccination in Amkoundjara, Chad.

Ms. Batakira has five children, and their family has been an example to the community. During a measles outbreak, members of the community noticed that her children were unaffected.  “I tell them my children are never sick because they are all vaccinated,” she said.

She notes that many parents also lack knowledge about healthful practices like washing their children with clean water and feeding them properly.

A grass-roots effort

Along with district officials like Ms. Batakira, town criers are playing a big role in communicating these important messages to the public. In Léproserie, Mahamat Kalala, a local crier, uses a megaphone to announce the immunization campaign dates in French, Arabic and the local language of Sar.

Mr. Kalala works closely with the health center to raise awareness of the importance of immunizing children. He has been a town crier for 10 years, and parents in the community trust him.

“Before, parents would just refuse to take their children to get vaccinated,” he said, “but now, we are talking to parents, and I can see how every year there are more and more of them who come for the vaccination.”

He also accompanies members of the UNICEF-supported health center as they go door-to-door to speak with parents who have not had their children vaccinated. Mr. Kalala has 13 children, all of them vaccinated.

“I know that they could die if they were not protected against these diseases,” he said, “and this is what I tell families to help convince them.”


 

 

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