UNICEF and Japan support better health for vulnerable children and women
By Mike Pflanz
BURAO, Northwest Somalia "Somaliland", 13 January 2011: In a country where basic health care is scarce, UNICEF supports a nation-wide network of primary health facilities with essential drugs and vaccines.
This is alongside outreach health initiatives that help the most remote people in this society of nomadic herders constantly on the move with their goats, sheep and camels.
An hour’s drive south-east of Burao, Somaliland, then 45 minutes’ walk along dusty paths, lies the small village of Be’er, home to some 250 families.
One recent afternoon, half a dozen staff from the Somaliland Ministry of Health and local NGOs gathered to help a queue of mothers and their babies waiting beneath the shade of an aged acacia tree for a twice-yearly Child Health Days campaign, a UNICEF-WHO initiative.
Children under five are tested for severe malnutrition, and referrals to local treatment programmes arranged where necessary. They are also immunised against measles, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus and polio.
Mothers and girls are advised on best health practices, and vaccinated against tetanus. Oral rehydration salts (ORS) and water purification tablets are also distributed.
Contributions from the Government of Japan in 2010 helped UNICEF provide the fridges and equipment used to store the vaccines, in addition to vaccine shots, ORS and the water purification tablets distributed through the campaign.
“We live in a different situation than other countries,” said Ali Sheikh Kabil, director of public health at the regional government.
“People here are nomadic and for some the Child Health Days might be the first access to health services their children have ever seen.”
Most importantly, vaccinations prevent future illnesses, and thus “reduce the disease burden, and the costs associated with it, significantly”, Mr. Kabil adds.
Nasra Ali, a 35-year-old mother with seven children, knows about this all too well. As her youngest daughter, Asma Mohamed, was vaccinated for measles at Be’er’s recent Child Health Days, she told how her second son almost died of the virus.
“Before, these injections did not come regularly, and my son fell sick because he was not vaccinated,” she said.
“Here, there are no health services, you must walk to the road and hitchhike to Burao, all with a sick child. He barely survived. Since then, all my children must be vaccinated, and I can only say thank you that these things are free.”