Going the extra mile: UNICEF Indonesia immunization drive reaches remote areas
By Suzanna Dayne
HARATAI VILLAGE, Indonesia, 24 August 2007 – It’s just after dawn and Riniyati is getting her 11-month-old baby girl Tresia ready for the day. She softly tells Tresia that today is special. Today she will go to the village longhouse to be immunized.
“I heard that measles and polio could hurt my child and she could even die if I didn’t get her immunized,” says Riniyati. And she’s right; measles kills more than 30,000 children each year in Indonesia, and a recent polio outbreak left more than 300 crippled for life, according to UNICEF officials.
Tresia is one of the 14 million children who are being immunized in Indonesia this year. Some live in cities and towns across this vast archipelago. But many, like Riniyati and Tresia, live in remote areas where getting the lifesaving vaccine is not an easy task.
Travels of a vaccine
About an hour away, a UNICEF Project Officer, Dr. Wibowo, is making his way up the mountain by motorcycle carrying measles and polio vaccines, as well as immunity-boosting vitamin A supplements.
The vaccines have travelled far. From the factory in West Java they were flown to the provincial capital, where they were sent by road to district health offices – and then carried by boat and by hand to this remote outpost in South Kalimantan.
“It is vital that we reach every child,” says Dr. Wibowo. “There is also a need to inform parents about the importance of immunization, and what could happen if they do not bring their children to health clinics or the temporary immunization posts like the ones here in Haratai village.”
The village residents, members of the indigenous Dayak community, used to live in a communal longhouse. Now they have their own simple wooden homes and the longhouse is used for village activities. Today it serves as an immunization centre. Many of the parents and children on hand have walked for miles to get here.
Attention to detail
The campaign is also carried out in local schools where children aged 6 to 12 receive the measles vaccine and often a second dose, which gives them more protection.
Dr. Wibowo and local health officials take the immunization drive to homes, too. They go door to door to check that each child has been immunized – and if not, to find out why. Often, parents need only a simple explanation to allow their children to be immunized. It is this kind of attention to detail that makes the campaign a success.
Later, the vaccines will be carried downriver to other villages where more children are in need.
The current effort is the fifth phase of an immunization campaign in Indonesia that aims to cover the entire country. It is part of a global measles initiative that includes UNICEF, the American Red Cross, the World Health Organization, the US Centers for Disease Control and the UN Foundation, all working toward reducing measles deaths by 90 per cent by 2010.