Liberia: the largest immunization campaign ever targets yellow fever
Montserrado County, Liberia, 24 November 2009 – The largest immunization campaign ever conducted in Liberia is currently underway in the country.
Over 3 million people – or 90 per cent of the population – are targeted for immunization against Yellow Fever, a potentially lethal infection transmitted from an infected person by mosquitoes.
Between 23rd and 29th November, everyone – except pregnant women and children under 9 months – should receive their injection by one of the 2,275 health teams mobilized in schools, community centres or clinics throughout the country.
In May this year, one case of Yellow Fever was confirmed in Nimba County and 12 cases were confirmed over the past nine years. The severity of the disease is such that one single confirmed case in a country constitutes an epidemic.
There is no cure to the disease but one injection provides immunity for ten years. In addition to the vaccine against Yellow Fever, all children between 12 months and five years of age receive a de-worming tablet of Mabendazole.
“The success of such a large scale campaign lies in the flow of the supply chain and the effectiveness of the social mobilization”, explained Cecilia Gmawghe, coordinator for the Montserrado County Health Team. “You need to ensure that everyone comes for their injection and that all health teams scattered throughout the area timely receive the right quantity of drugs and the syringes they need. Otherwise the valuable medicine gets wasted or people have to queue for hours and hours before receiving their dose.”
Community mobilizers have been dispatched throughout the country to inform the population about the danger of Yellow Fever and the importance to get immunized. They also inform them about where the nearest vaccination point is and strongly encourage the people to turnout to get their injection. In addition, messages were broadcasted on radio or by megaphone to raise awareness.
A complex logistic organization has been deployed to ensure that the vaccines can reach virtually everyone. Liberia’s road network never fully recovered from the years of civil war, and large areas of the country remain unreachable by car. Some supplies were dispatched in strategic locations by boat, helicopter, motorcycle or any other means of transportation available.
Prior to the beginning of the campaign, local health authorities made a plan of how many people need to be vaccinated in any designated area. Every morning, each health team must ensure that they receive from the nearest health facility sufficient supplies to cover the day.
The numbers are high and there is little room for mistake to meet the target of immunizing 3 million people by 29 November. Each health team made of four members must perform on average 25 injections per hour.
The population responded massively for the first two days of the campaign but the coordination team chaired by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare continues to meet daily ensure that operations run smoothly and that the cadence is maintained. The main partners: the World Health Organisation (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) have supported the Government of Liberia to plan, implement and monitor this large scale vaccination campaign.
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