Reaching the most vulnerable children in Mauritania
By Marie Bombard and Anthea Moore
ATAR, Mauritania, 23 April 2013 - Zeinabou and her daughter Meunanan arrived at the Atar Health Centre amidst the celebrations for the 3rd African Immunization Week. Zeinabou is 19 years old and since she gave birth to Meunanan 15 months ago, she has conscientiously ensured that her little girl has received all the recommended vaccinations. The medical staff check Meunanan’s vaccination records in the small pink booklet that Zeinabou has brought with her. It shows that Meunanan is up to date for all her vaccinations for potentially deadly diseases including measles, polio, diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus.
African Vaccination Week helps to promote vaccinations so that parents understand, like Zeinabou does, the importance of vaccination for their children and how they can access the services available. The fun atmosphere, various activities and distribution of insecticide treated mosquito nets (which help prevent malaria) draw a big crowd who all benefit from information on vaccination.
1 out of every 5 children in the world and 1 out of every 5 children in Mauritania are still not being reached with vital vaccines*. These children are not being vaccinated or fully vaccinated for a number of reasons including a lack of education and information on the importance of vaccination and insufficient resources. Mauritania provides particular challenges in reaching remote and nomadic communities and maintaining a ‘cold chain’ for live vaccines that need to be transported long distances in the extremely hot conditions of the Sahara and Sahel.
Mothers like Zeinabou do everything they can to protect their children. Even before the birth, Zeinabou ensured she was vaccinated against tetanus, attended four pre-natal visits and came to the hospital to give birth rather than staying at home. She is still breastfeeding Meunanan in addition to providing supplementary solid food since she was six months old.
“I have brought my daughter to this health center for all of her vaccination appointments because I know that if Meunanan is immunized she will be stronger and protected against many diseases. The nurses from the health center tell me when Meunanan needs more vaccinations. Now I live a bit far from this health center but I prefer traveling to the same place to ensure good follow-up.”
One week to save lives by vaccinating
African Immunization Week is helping to reach those children who are not immunized in Mauritania. UNICEF is working together with the Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization, other UN agencies and partners to achieve this objective. Vaccination campaigns are being organized and advocacy for immunization done directly with local communities, parents, health staff and local leaders as well as using local radio programmes and sketches.
UNICEF Mauritania’s Representative Lucia Elmi explains the strategic importance of immunization in achieving better health outcomes for children.
“In Mauritania, vaccination is crucial to eliminate communicable diseases and to strengthen the resilience of the population to face crises like the Sahel nutrition crisis that Mauritania experienced in 2012, the effects of which are still being felt in 2013. By immunizing children, we can decrease child mortality in the country, reaching our objective of lowering child mortality to 20 children per 1000 live births by 2035. This is a part of the global “A Promise Renewal” movement, which Mauritania is a signatory to.”
Immunization remains one of the highest impact and most cost-effective health interventions available. It costs less than US$1 to protect a child against measles for life. UNICEF is the world’s largest buyer of vaccines, procuring vaccines for 36% of the world's children. Until the last child in the most remote and vulnerable community receives the level of assistance and care that Zeinabou and Meunanan received, UNICEF and partners still have more work to do.