Amidst fighting, Somali children receive life-saving health services in Mogadishu
By Iman Morooka
MOGADISHU, Somalia, 9 February 2010 – Despite fighting that has displaced hundreds of thousands of people here, a large-scale Child Health Days campaign has succeeded in reaching children and women with high-impact health services in all of the Somali capital’s 16 districts.
UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) supported the campaign. It was part of a nationwide effort to provide life-saving health and nutrition services to every Somali child under the age of five – and every woman of child-bearing age.
The two agencies partnered with local authorities and community-based organizations to implement this critical intervention in Mogadishu. More than 3,600 trained health workers participated in delivering the services at the community level.
The campaign immunized over 288,000 children against polio, measles, diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus, and provided them with vitamin A supplements, de-worming tablets and nutritional screening. More than 296,000 women of child-bearing age were immunized against tetanus.
In addition, the child-health package included water-purification tablets, as well as oral rehydration salts to treat diarrhoeal dehydration.
Harsh living conditions
Outreach efforts such as this are especially important for children and families in Mogadishu, who face harsh living conditions and lack even basic services – a situation compounded by ongoing conflict and limited humanitarian access.
“We don’t have health facilities, nor water and shelter,” said Halima Elmi, a mother of eight who brought her children to a health post set up for the campaign. She now lives in a displacement camp where no hospitals or clinics are available.
“I came today to see health workers who have the vaccines. This is what the people here need,” said Ms. Elmi.
According to UNICEF Health Specialist Dr. Imran Raza Mirza, organizing such a far-reaching campaign in a conflict zone was a challenge.
“Planning the Child Health Days in Mogadishu was not easy, given the volatile nature of the environment, where security conditions are changing by the day,” said Dr. Mirza. “Our implementation plans were disrupted, on occasion, by serious fighting.”
But flexibility and good preparation made it possible to reach children and women in the capital. All vaccines and other supplies used in the campaign were pre-positioned, and health workers were on stand-by to fan out whenever the security situation allowed.
The presence of UNICEF and WHO staff on the ground also facilitated planning and implementation of the campaign in close cooperation with the local authorities and other partners. Over a period of three months, all of the districts in Mogadishu were covered in a phased approach.
‘A major accomplishment’
“It is certainly a major accomplishment for all of us who took part,” Dr. Mirza said, adding that heavy fighting continues in the capital almost every day. “Yet it was possible to deliver this massive undertaking, which required mobilizing a large number of health workers and involved delivering and distributing a huge volume of supplies,” he noted.
One in every 10 children in Somalia dies before turning one, while one child in five dies before the age of five. Despite the challenge of delivering aid in the country’s central and southern regions – especially in Mogadishu – the determination and commitment of local communities made the ambitious Child Health Days initiative possible, against all odds.