Child Health Days reinforce routine immunization in Somalia
By Athanas Makundi
Hargeisa, 1 July 2014 - Every year thousands of children in Somalia die needlessly from preventable diseases – and the annual World Immunization Week aims to put a stop to that with social mobilizers persuading mothers to bring their children to be vaccinated.
“We are encouraging everyone to get to know the available vaccines for their children,” says Fatuma Abdi Hassan, a social mobilizer working with the vaccination team covering Digale camp for the internally displaced, on the outskirts of Hargeisa capital of Somaliland.
“We want parents to ensure their children have received all the recommended vaccines to protect them from preventable killer diseases.” she adds.
Farah Ahmed Aden’s first and second born did not live to see their first birthdays and both died from diseases. Although, Farah is now a mother of seven children, the pain of losing her children is still fresh. When she talks about what happened to them she pauses, her voice trails off with eyes fixed on the ground.
“My children just fell sick and died,” says Farah quietly. “Several times, I ask myself what I could have done differently to avoid this but I know it is the will of Allah. “
Farah’s family recently moved from Qoolcaday village, in southwest Somaliland after all their animals died due to drought and settled in Digale camp.
The social mobilizers call over loud speakers to tell mothers to bring children to be immunized. Soon afterwards, the social mobilizer visits Farah to explain the importance of immunizing her children. Eventually, she agrees and takes five of her children to be vaccinated. Farah who is 8 months pregnant received a tetanus vaccine.
“I didn’t know anything about immunization,” says Farah, whose three-year-old daughter contracted measles recently. “But I realized that my husband’s second wife had immunized her children and when measles affected other children, her children were not affected.”
The polio outbreak of in Somalia in May last year, saw about 194 children affected, UNICEF and its partners are keen to ensure a wide coverage during the week’s campaign. Children under one year received pentavalent vaccine, which contains five vaccines in a single shot and protects children against potentially fatal childhood disease like diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenza type B. Children under five received measles vaccine and polio. And women of productive age were also vaccinated against neo-natal tetanus
“This is the second day since we began immunization, and so far we haven’t faced any vaccine resistance, “ says Asha Abdirahamani, the health worker. “But we are realizing that most of the children coming for immunization are coming for the first time.”
In an effort to combat challenges of low immunization levels in Somalia, UNICEF, WHO and partners are working together to improve routine immunization by assisting to set up immunizations services at the health clinics and hospitals.
Children immunized during the week were registered and issued with vaccinations cards and mothers advised where to take children for continuity of the recommended series of vaccinations.
“Routine immunization is one of the sustainable ways to achieve our goals,” says UNICEF Health Specialist, Awil Haji Ali Gure. “We want the hospitals to be the fixed vaccination sites, where children can continue with the series of immunizations.”
Dr. Osman Hussein Osami Mohamed, the Director General at the Ministry of Health in Somaliland says the Ministry is developing a national immunization policy, which will guide the best way to cover hard to reach areas
“We need for human resource, “says Dr. Mohamed. “The government’s plan is protect children through immunization and guarantee their future by educating them to become the human resource that will develop this nation.”
A child born in Somalia has a higher chance of dying before their fifth birthday than practically anywhere else in the world – often from a preventable illness. Immunization is the first step in ensuring health and survival.