|President Mamadou Tandja of Niger comforts a 16-month-old boy, Ansoumane, who has just received his measles vaccine jab.|
By Gaelle Bausson
NIAMEY, Niger, 7 January 2008 – Ansoumane, 16 months old, shut his eyes tightly and clenched his little fists as he received a jab in the arm to rousing applause, under the gaze of Niger’s President Mamadou Tandja.
“A few tears are a small price to pay,” Mr. Tandja said, comforting the baby boy.
Ansoumane is one of the 2.9 million children that UNICEF and Niger’s Ministry of Health aim to vaccinate against measles during a week-long, integrated immuunization campaign now under way across Niger.
“The overriding goal is to prevent measles deaths and disability, and to give each child in Niger the best start in life,” said UNICEF Representative in Niger Akhil Iyer.
Ansoumane’s mother, Ramatou Saidou, like thousands of other mothers and caregivers, heard on the radio where to take her child to get vaccinated. “I’ve heard that my child would then be protected from the deadly disease,” she said. In a key component of the immunization campaign, the media, traditional and religious leaders, and volunteers have mobilized to spread the word about the importance of measles vaccination.
‘Every child should be protected’
Before Niger began intensive measles-control activities with its first Measles Initiative-supported campaign in 2004-05, measles was a major cause of childhood death and disability here. According to UNICEF Niger, the reported incidence of measles has since decreased from 40,000 cases and 500 deaths in 2003 to 478 cases and 4 deaths in 2006.
Yet a lack of measles vaccine coverage in some places leaves about 360,000 children without protection from the disease each year.
|A community health worker gives a vaccine injection to a child in Saounaoua village, in the Maradi region of southern Niger.|
“Every child should be protected through this simple life-saving intervention,” said Chief Nurse Mariama Issoufou Ibrahim at Talladje Health Centre in Niamey. “I can’t tell you how good it feels to be able to use my skills to prevent children from being sick. I’ve seen too many children die or become disabled from measles.”
In addition to a shot of the measles vaccine, children aged 12 months to 5 years get a dose of de-worming medicine, which is instrumental in combating anaemia and malnutrition. This makes the campaign a ‘one-stop’ vehicle for children’s access to much-needed preventive care. It is also the first national de-worming initiative on this scale in Niger.
Invaluable support from all corners
The Measles Initiative is a partnership committed to reducing measles deaths globally. Measles is still one of the major causes of childhood illness and disability, and a leading cause of child death in developing countries – this despite the fact that a safe vaccine that costs less than a dollar per child has been available for many decades.
The Initiative’s aim is to reduce measles deaths by 90 per cent globally by 2010, compared to their 2000 level.
This particular immunization drive is led by Niger’s Ministry of Health, with financial and technical support from UNICEF, the World Health Organization and a coalition of other Measles Initiative partners.
The national campaign is costing $2.3 million to conduct, with the international agencies contributing the bulk of the funds. Through the generous support of the US Centers for Disease Control, the United Nations Foundation and Norway, UNICEF is the largest contributor, having released more than $1.5 million to cover vaccine procurement, syringes for safe injections and safety boxes, as well as transportation, training and social mobilization.