Reaching the most at risk children

Japan supports vaccination of Afghan children

By Monica Awad
Khadija, 2 years old, being vaccinated in Herat, Afghanistan.
UNICEF Afghanistan/2018/Zaeem

26 September 2018

Herat, Afghanistan, 25 September 2018 - For 21-year old Shirbano and her three children, life has become unbearable.  Due to drought worsened by climate change, her hometown Murghab, a district in Badghis province. 

“I had to leave my hometown, because it was no longer safe, and our crops were dying because of lack of water,” says Shirbano. 

In Injil District of Herat, Shirbano and her three children settled in a tiny tent that can barely protect them from the dusty wind or the scorching heat. “We are happy here because we receive water, food, and my children are receiving health and nutrition services as well as education,” says Shirbano.

Since May of this year, thousands of families from Badghis, Ghor and Faryab provinces in western Afghanistan, fled to Herat  a nearby province, due to drought and intensified fighting.  UNICEF was on the ground from the beginning providing life-saving humanitarian assistance, including water, sanitation; health, nutrition, education and protection services for children and families in need.

Due to violence, Shirbano’s youngest child, Khadija, 2, was not able to complete her routine immunization.  “My daughter Khadija was vaccinated immediately after birth in our hometown,” says Shirbano.  “I am very keen that all my children are vaccinated,” she adds.

Yet due to the intensified fighting in Murghab district, the local health facilities had to reduce their services, and some were even shut down, denying children like Khadija their right to immunization.

“Few months after the birth of Khadija, I lost her immunization card,” says Shirbano with a grin. “Actually, I didn’t need it anymore, because there was no one to vaccinate my baby Khadija.”

Muslim Abad IDP site, Injil District, Herat, the 10 months old twins, Bacha Khan (boy) and Kabila (girl) received their second round of vaccines.
UNICEF Afghanistan/2018/Zaeem
Muslim Abad IDP site, Injil District, Herat, the 10 months old twins, Bacha Khan (boy) and Kabila (girl) received their second round of vaccines. Five months ago, their family was displaced from Badghis to Herat due to droughts worsened by climate change. Herat, West Afghanistan. 25 September 2018.

Routine immunization made possible

In Herat, where thousands of families are internally-displaced, seeking shelter, UNICEF with the support of the People and Government of Japan, is providing immunization services for all children under one year of age and women of child bearing age.

 “Vaccines are the most cost effective healthcare intervention,” says Dr. Sanjay Bhardwaj, Immunisation Manager, UNICEF Afghanistan.   “Thanks to the Government and People of Japan for making vaccination possible for most vulnerable children like Khadija.”

With partners, UNICEF deploys a mobile health team to ensure that all children receive the vaccines they need.    “We provide basic health services to children and their families in this internally displaced people’s camp,” says Bhardwaj.   

As a result of UNICEF supported social mobilization campaigns, internally-displaced people’s demand for vaccinating their children increased.  On a daily basis, the mobile health team vaccinates up to 40 children and women, in addition to providing nutrition support.

Shirbano’s oldest child Rahmatulla, 7, had completed his vaccination.  “My son is very healthy and that is how I know the importance of vaccines,” says Shirbano pointing to her son who is running around in the tiny tent. 

“I was concerned about my daughter’s health, because she did not complete her vaccinations,” says Shirbano.  “Now, I am so happy that she can get all the vaccines she needs here in the settlement.”

The support from the Government and People of Japan, enabled UNICEF to vaccinate all children in the settlement against vaccine preventable diseases, including polio.  As a result, UNICEF is able to reach more than one million children with routine immunization, and more than 2 million women of child bearing age in Afghanistan.

The story was drafted with inputs from Abdul Rahman Zaeem, Communication Officer, UNICEF Herat Field Office