|© UNICEF Timor-Leste/2006/Ruiz|
|Etelvina's seven-month-old son Joque is vaccinated against measles during a UNICEF-supported campaign to inoculate 30,000 children living in camps for people displaced by the violence in Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste.|
By Tani Ruiz
DILI, Timor-Leste, 14 June 2006 – Sounds of crying babies filled the air, but on this particular occasion, the sobs elicited smiles. Timorese parents were happy to hold their screaming children as health workers in Don Bosco, one of Dili’s largest camps for displaced people, expertly jabbed measles vaccines into little arms, one after the other.
It was the start of a measles vaccination campaign that the Ministry of Health is conducting with support from UNICEF, the World Health Organization and other partners. Yesterday, the first day of the drive, some 1,500 children were vaccinated – including almost 600 at Don Bosco camp, one of seven camps where the campaign kicked off.
For those living in dozens of camps in Dili, the goal is to ensure that all children aged 6 months to 14 years are immunized against the lethal disease. Measles thrives in times of conflict, disasters and other emergencies when children’s health suffers.
“This one single action has a huge impact in protecting children from an infectious disease that is a big childhood killer, particularly when immune systems are compromised,” said UNICEF’s Representative in Timor-Leste, Shui-Meng Ng, during a round at Don Bosco.
Parents appear en masse
At mid-morning – after the supplies and cold-chain box used to keep vaccines fresh arrived at Don Bosco – vaccinators from the Ministry of Health quickly set up shop in the centre of the large, crowded camp. Vitamin A supplements (to boost children’s immune systems) and de-worming tablets were laid on tables, syringes were unwrapped and filled with vaccine, and safety boxes were readied.
|© UNICEF Timor-Leste/2006/Ruiz|
|Timor-Leste Ministry of Health workers prepare measles vaccines at the start of a campaign to immunize 30,000 children against the disease. On the first day of the drive, they reached some 1,500 displaced children.|
Parents, mobilized by loudspeakers announcing the measles drive, appeared en masse. After some initial muddle, proper lines formed for the measles registration.
“We have 12 vaccinators at this camp. They will vaccinate 5,000 children in the coming days,” said the head of the Maternal and Child Health Unit at the Ministry of Health, Natalia De Araujo.
Etelvina, the mother of seven-month-old Joque, was one of the first to arrive. “I’m bringing my baby here so that he doesn’t get the disease. I know that measles is dangerous and I’m very conscious about my child’s health,” she said.
Health boost for children
Enthusiasm among parents was also evident at the other camps where the campaign was being rolled out: Laran Conosa School, Airport, Akademia Polisi, Seminario Major, Igreja Katedral Vilaverde and Bairo Pite.
It will take around two weeks to reach an estimated 30,000 children living in the camps and temporary shelters established as a result of the conflict engulfing the country. Once the camps have been covered, vaccinators will target children still living in their homes or with host families in the capital.
The plan is then to extend the measles campaign to the districts of Timor-Leste most heavily affected by men, women and children fleeing Dili.
Although a coordinated humanitarian effort is doing its best to provide food, water and sanitation, and health services to a displaced population, conditions are still tough for many. But having their children inoculated against measles is at least one less worry for stressed parents, and a lifetime health boost for children.
13 June 2006:
UNICEF Representative Shui-Meng Ng gives an update on the measles campaign and other UNICEF efforts in Timor-Leste's camps for displaced people.