|Nuurto, who lost her youngest child to measles, hopes to protect her other children with help from a UNICEF immunization campaign.|
By Misbah M. Sheikh
AFGOYE, Somalia, 18 December 2007 – Hawa Ali, a mother of two, fled fighting in the Somali capital of Mogadishu last month and found refuge in the makeshift Eelasha Biyasha settlement here. This camp and others like it, along a 30-km stretch between Mogadishu and Afgoye, are now home to some 200,000 children, women and men displaced by conflict.
“I came to this settlement because we couldn’t live in Mogadishu anymore,” said Hawa. “Some of my relatives were here so I decided to be close to them. When I got here I heard that many children were suffering from diarrhoea, skin itching and even measles.”
Concerned that her children might fall sick, Hawa was happy to hear that a health and immunization campaign would be taking place in the camp.
“My mother used to tell me never to immunize my children because injections kill,” Hawa continued. “My siblings and I never got any shots. It is amazing how we survived when I have seen so many others die. But I decided to immunize my children because everyone on the radio said it was important and all my relatives in this camp already took their children.”
|Hawa fled the fighting in Mogadishu and is having her children immunized against diseases in the displacement camp.|
Bolstering maternal and child health
The campaign Hawa mentioned was a week-long effort supported by UNICEF through two local non-governmental organizations – CED and SOPHPA – to provide some 47,000 children under the age of five with protection from common childhood illnesses, along with vitamin A capsules to boost their immunity.
Some 56,000 women of reproductive age also got iron and vitamin A supplements, immunization against tetanus and access to help with delivery, as needed.
“The health and well-being of displaced children and women is extremely important to UNICEF, especially as many of the children who arrive here are malnourished and in immediate need of care” said UNICEF Representative in Somalia Christian Balslev Olesen.
“If you consider that only 5 per cent of all Somali children receive the full recommended course of vaccinations, campaigns like this one are extremely important to raise coverage rates,” he added.
Recent UNICEF-supported campaigns in other parts of Somalia have helped to immunize over 1.6 million children against polio, and close to 900,000 against measles – demonstrating that it is possible to reduce deaths from these diseases using a targeted approach.
A larger humanitarian effort
UNICEF intends to use this approach to ensure that all children, wherever they might live, are reached with an essential life-saving package. This is why two additional rounds of the child-survival campaign will be organized along the Afgoye corridor in the coming months.
But these critical health interventions are just one element of UNICEF’s emergency response. Other elements include the integrated management of acute malnutrition, the delivery of safe water, the construction of latrines and the provision of learning spaces for children.
To date, such efforts have helped to, for example:
“I know how important it is for children to get vaccinated,” said Nuurto Abshir, a mother of six whose younger children were immunized during the recent campaign. “My oldest child died from measles. I don’t want to lose any more of my children to a disease that can be prevented.”