“Eighty per cent of these children were never immunized before,” said the team leader, Dr. Slobodanka Simic, an epidemiologist from Modrica. “Through this campaign we protect the youngest children from birth to one year of age against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis and poliomyelitis. The older children received vaccines against measles, mumps and rubella. In addition, we give them a vaccination schedule, with the appointment date for the next vaccine clearly marked.”
Experienced medical mobile teams visited Modricki Lug, a small suburban settlement of Roma and managed to vaccinate almost half of the children identified as vulnerable in this municipality. Of 230 registered Roma children, 90 have been immunized during the two-day catch-up immunization organized jointly by the Primary Schools and Health Center in Modrica.
Children, aware that the vaccine protects them from dangerous diseases, proudly wore their new T-shirts with the message “I am immunized!”, showing their arms and saying “It wasn’t painful at all”.
Senior health officials appreciated the international co-operation and support enabling immunization outreach activities: “It was unrealistic to expect those children to approach the medical institution. Therefore we decided that the system should approach them; we know now the decision was a good one” stated Dr. Mitar Tesanovic, one of the National Immunization Co-ordinators.
Dr. Tesanovic also said, “Our major challenge was to track all the Roma children, having in mind the mobility of their population and the fact that most of them had never been registered. We were using different methods to track them; the most successful source was the Municipal registry at the Department for Minorities. We have also worked intensively with the media, announcing this action in advance and informing parents on the right of their children to immunization and its importance, trying to reach as many parents and their children as possible.”
Despite immunization service in BIH being free of charge, with no child being excluded in recent years, there has been a significant decrease in immunization coverage rate. As budget allocations were not always sufficient, vaccines were not always procured on time or in sufficient quantities. Complicated tendering procedures and general shortage of certain vaccines in the world market are making this problem even bigger.
Furthermore, the general population is showing signs of complacency and a lack of interest in immunization, believing that the most contagious and deadly diseases were eradicated long ago. “But people tend to forget they have been eradicated thanks to efficient and continued immunisation programmes. Once the continued immunisation chain is broken, the outbreaks could knock on the door” said Dr. Tesanovic.
The recent outbreak of measles, which occurred in Roma settlements around Sarajevo, confirmed that the Roma population is most vulnerable due to lack of access to immunization and other health services, as well as due to their mobility.
As part of this year’s marking of European Immunization Week, WHO and UNICEF joined forces to support Public Health Institutes in organizing nine educational roundtables for epidemiologists, pediatricians and journalists. It was a good opportunity for the participants to exchange their experiences, and try to identify the barriers preventing timely immunization of socially-excluded children. The objective was to identify the ways to reach and protect hard-to-reach children and to secure community support for it.
“We congratulate Bosnia and Herzegovina for joining 24 other countries marking European Immunization Week, and thus strengthening regional efforts to increase immunization coverage and reduce the deaths of 32,000 children occurring every year in this region from vaccine-preventable diseases,” said UNICEF Representative June Kunugi at the roundtable hosted by the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina Public Health Institute.
The final outcome of the roundtables will be a strategy for the improvement of the immunization program towards immunization of all children in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In order to increase public understanding for European Immunization Week, UNICEF and WHO initiated and supported the production of 20,000 public information and advocacy materials, including posters, T-shirts, and leaflets with immunization schedules. Additional support was provided for social mobilization activities, particularly among the most marginalized population, and media mobilization.
UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.
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