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“It’s Just a Bug”. The Story of One Unvaccinated Boy’s Struggle with Meningitis



Anastasia Polishchuk: “We thought that our child was just cutting teeth and we almost lost her because of meningitis”

Sophia, 7 month, a girl who almost died because she was not vaccinated

The story of a little girl who almost died due to lack of immunization

Sofiyka Polishchuk is seven months old. Her mother Anastasia says that the little girl was born twice. The second time was when she survived after Hib meningitis, which she had contracted at six months of age. Sofiyka was between life and death at an intensive care unit for more than two weeks. Today, after one and a half months of treatment Sofiyka is finally at home.

But anxiety will probably not disappear from her mother’s heart for a long time yet. Deafness can be a complication due to the past infection and that means the little girl might have speech abnormalities too. Since in order to speak, a person needs to hear. “If I had known what a horrible disease meningitis is, I would have never listened to a doctor who persuaded me to postpone an immunization against Hib infection when Sofiyka was three months old”, says Anastasia.

According to Anastasia’s words, everything started from a simple temperature rise. “But when it rose to 39 degrees, we called a district paediatrician. She examined our daughter and said that she was probably cutting teeth. But one hour later rash appeared on the little girl’s body and blue patches appeared on her cheeks. She became languid. Then she lost her consciousness. We called an ambulance. Later, an intensive care unit doctor said that if the little girl was delivered by one or two hours later, it would have been impossible to save her.”

“Why did you refuse from immunization?” I asked Anastasia.

“The doctor persuaded us to postpone the immunization because of anaemia. Hb level in Sofiyka’s blood was about 90. According to the doctor’s words, vaccination during such a period of time could have lead to dangerous complications.”

“According to international standards, anaemia is not a contraindication for vaccination and it cannot cause complications after immunization. On the contrary, children in such conditions (anaemia) are more exposed to the risks of severe course of infection in case of getting infected. This case of meningitis could have been prevented if the child were immunized”, says Dr. Fedir Lapiy, a paediatric immunologist, National Medical Academy of Postgraduate Education.

Sofiyka got really lucky since Hib infection is one of the three main causes of meningitis in Ukraine. In Ukraine, this very disease is one of the five leading causes of death for children under one year. All cases of severe manifestations of Hib infection can be found in children aged up to five years. 15-35% of those, who have survived after Hib meningitis, develop a disability – mental retardation or deafness. However, the real number can be much higher since not all cases of Hib infection get registered in Ukraine.

About 6-7% of children aged 1-2 years are carriers of Hib infection. This is not a disease, but in such children the bacteria can cause meningitis, severe pneumonia (inflammation of lungs), sepsis, osteomyelitis (purulent filling of bones), arthrempyesis (inflammation of joints), phlegmon (purulent inflammation of hypoderm). Bacteria are passed from one person to another by droplets during coughing and sneezing.

It is extremely difficult to identify Hib infection in an ill person because bacteria need special conditions for their shedding. Due to that, real frequency of Hib infection has not been determined in Ukraine and those cases that get registered are the minimum. Such a situation creates a debate concerning the necessity of immunization against Hib infection. Doctors often do not relate meningitis and other infectious diseases, caused by Hib, with this infection. A significant number of parents refuse to have their children immunized against Hib infection which leads to negative consequences.

“I still don’t understand how my dear daughter contracted meningitis. I was very afraid that my elder daughter would become ill too. Maybe she did not contract it for the very reason that she was immunized against Hib infection”, says Anastasia Polishchuk.

In Ukraine, every four days one child dies because of an infectious disease. Ukrainians tend to be more afraid of the adverse events risks after immunisation than they are of complications stemming from infectious diseases. Official Ministry of Health statistics indicates drop in immunisation coverage to 10-15%. In some regions of Ukraine immunization coverage against separate infectious diseases is 40%.
Currently UNICEF in Ukraine in cooperation with Ministry of Health implements the project ‘Restoring public trust in immunization’ aiming to promote immunization among parents and to strengthen technical capacity among health professionals.

UNICEF opened its office in Kyiv in 1997. Key areas of UNICEF work in Ukraine are:

  • Protection of children and women from HIV infection through extension of access to medical-social services.
  • Child protection from violence and abandonment.
  • Support for child health, development, immunization, breastfeeding and the elimination of iodine deficiency disorders. 
  • Support for effective policy and monitoring systems of child rights.

 More information about UNICEF activities in Ukraine is at:    



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