A long walk towards health
By Ana Seixas
DJIBOUTI, Ali-Sabieh, 17 June 2014- When her husband fell victim to Somalia’s ongoing civil war, Chouckri gathered her seven children and fled to neighbouring Djibouti. It was a long journey, much of it on foot until they reached the Holl-Holl refugee camp. But now that they are in Djibouti, they dream about a brighter future – which means a healthier future as well. This is why, today, she brought her two youngest children, Mouna and Abdoulrahman, to the regional medical centre.
Vaccines to save lives
“Do you have your children’s immunisation card?” asks the doctor who just came back. Chouckri shakes her head: “None of my children has ever received a vaccination”, she explains.
“None of my children has ever received a vaccine”
Seated on the floor with her back against the wall, the forty-year old mother waits for the doctor to call them again. She was told that here she will be able to get her children protected free of charge against main life-threatening diseases. Thanks to the support of international donors such as the GAVI Alliance, UNICEF has been able to support the Ministry of Health and its routine Expanded Immunisation Programme with all necessary vaccines, injection materials and cold chain equipment. In June this year, another giant step will be taken with the introduction of the Rota-virus vaccine, one of the most efficient means to prevent diarrheal diseases. In Djibouti, diarrhea is responsible for 13 per cent of deaths among children aged under-five.
A nutritional emergency
While her seven-month old little brother Abdoulrahman lies on a makeshift bed of cardboard and fabric which protects him from the rugged concrete, Mouna plays nearby. The whole setting is new for the little girl, who looks at it with the normal curiosity of a three-year old. But soon the health centre will become a familiar place: at 81.5 cm tall and weighing only 8.6 Kg, Mouna will have to return quite a few times until she finishes the treatment she needs to survive and reach the minimum 10.4Kg expected for her height. Abdoulrahman is not better off; measuring 61.5 cm in length, he weighs only 4.7 Kg, well below the normal 6.4 Kg.
“The only thing I would like to have is some more clothes"
Both Mouna and her brother suffer from acute malnutrition, like 17.8 per cent of children in Djibouti. This prevalence surpasses the 15 per cent threshold established by the World Health Organisation to identify an emergency situation. Since these results were released in December 2013, UNICEF has been using them to call for swift action to avoid a further deterioration of the physical and mental development of children like Mouna and Abdoulrahman - and prevent it happening to others. Thanks to this strong advocacy, Djibouti is on alert and a national strategy to tackle malnutrition is being developed. Thanks to this increased awareness, staff at the Holl-Holl refugee camp advised Chouckri to bring Abdoulrahman to the centre a week ago. Today, she brought Mouna as well. In the regional medical centre, Mouna and her brother will be able to get the treatment they need.
Health… and spare clothes
Chouckri is happy today. Now that Mouna and Abdoulrahman will be treated and vaccinated, they will soon be in good health. “The only thing I would like to have is some more clothes… I only have a spare dress. And the clothes my children are wearing today are the only ones they have…”