New vaccine to save thousands of children in Mozambique
Maputo, 11 April 2013 - The dirt road that leads to the Malhangalene Medical Center in Maputo has turned into mud. Hard rain has been pelting down on the capital city throughout the day, making everyone wish the rainy season was over already. Preventive health technicians Felicidade Francisco and Imeldina Cuna have most of their working day behind them. Their office is empty, and the clinic is quiet. In a couple of days, this will not be the case. A new children’s vaccine will be launched at the clinic, and Felicidade and Imeldina are busy making arrangements.
"We began preparing two months ago," says Felicidade. "The Ministry of Health organized training sessions for us, teaching us about the new vaccine and about the plans to launch it."
The new pneumococcal vaccine, or PCV10, is being rolled out to all children under the age of 12 months in the country. It will become a part of the routine immunization schedule, in a country that sees thousands of its children die because of this respiratory illness every year. It is the latest push by the government to see child mortality rates reach Millennium Development Goal 4 of 73 deaths per 1000 live births by 2015. It is now at 97.
Felicidade and Imeldina work every day vaccinating babies and children under five – there are about 400 of them around this clinic - and have recently begun to tell parents about the new vaccine, inviting them for the launch event.
"Families have themselves been asking about it, wanting to give it to their children already," says Imeldina.
They both agree that this will mean a great deal for the health of children in the country, provided that parents commit to the whole course of the immunization, which includes three injections. But generally in this neighbourhood, families are pretty good at adhering to the vaccine schedule of their children, they say.
"It is mostly with families that are passing through or from other localities that we have problems," says Felicidade. "They come for one shot, but don’t return for the rest."
They are tasked to follow up with families that fall off the schedule, but with such out-of-town families, they often never find them.
Two days later, the clinic looks a very different place indeed. It has luckily stopped raining, and hundreds of people gather in the clinic’s courtyard, mostly mothers and babies. There is a festive mood in the air, and Felicidade and Imeldina, donning t-shirts made especially for this day, are running around making sure everything is in place.
"We are proud to be the first locality in the capital city to roll out the new vaccine," says the head of the clinic to the large crowd.
With that many babies around, one would expect much louder cries and protests, especially when the speeches go on and the sun gets hotter, but most seem happy to suckle or to curiously examine each other and their surroundings. Of course, this will change once the vaccination begins.
"It is an intramuscular vaccine," says Imeldina, and in that sense it will make some mothers uneasy. The baby will get over it generally much quicker than the mothers.
Three-month old Lulani Estevao is one of the first to get the vaccine today. His tiny face wrinkled tight, he lets out a high-pitched scream as Imeldina expertly pushes the needle into his thigh and quickly pulls it out again. Tania Cristina, his mother, looks distraught, but she is quick to let him suckle at her breast, and rocks him until he quietens down.
"He has had a vaccine shot earlier so I knew it might be easier this time," she said, visibly relieved. And it was easier than I thought. It is really important to protect my child from this disease.
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