Stimulating a Demand for Immunization
Changing perceptions is the first step to changing behaviours
In light of the upcoming 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), UNICEF Cambodia spotlights its work educating hard to reach communities on the benefits of immunization. Creating a demand for vaccinations is an important step to ensuring every child enjoys their right to good health.
Stung Treng, Cambodia, October 2019 – Health education in Sre Russey helps to inform parents on the live-saving benefits of immunization and to shift attitudes towards playing an active role in keeping babies safe and healthy.
UNICEF Cambodia works to reach people in remote areas of the country, running health and nutrition sessions which promote good practices, mobilise communities and encourage people to demand quality health services. In these isolated villages, like Sre Russey in Stung Treng province, UNICEF Cambodia is promoting messages on the importance of immunizations and encouraging parents to participate on the vaccination outreach sessions organized by the local health centres.
Located around eight kilometres away from the nearest health centre in Thalaborivath district, this farming village of 586 people is one of 22 villages covered by this clinic.
Ms Aem Khean, the 41-year-old Commune Councilor for Woman and Children (CCWC), described how harmfully vaccinations were viewed by the villagers in the past. “When Thalaborivath health centre staff came to the village to administer vaccines mothers ran away with their children. They were afraid that the vaccines will make their children sick,” Khean explained.
Changing perceptions is the first step to changing behaviours. And the key to changing perceptions is education and knowledge. Since UNICEF Cambodia began supporting the health centre to run regular outreach sessions, and work from the CCWC and Village Health Support Group (VHSG) are helping perceptions to begin to change.
“I didn’t know anything about vaccinations until I got some training from the health centre,” explains Khean, “now I have more knowledge on health, can help motivate other villagers to get vaccinations and visit the health centre for antenatal care and delivery.” Khean continued, “during village meetings I raise the issue of public health services, trying to encourage the population to go to the education sessions.”
Eam Samrith, 58-years-old, has worked in the VHSG since 2004. She also benefits from training on health key messages including antenatal care, safe delivery, pneumonia, immunization, malaria and tuberculosis. Samrith told us, “this training helped me understand the health services that women and children should receive during pregnancy, delivery and after birth.”
The health centre staff have been carrying out sessions just for mothers on the benefits of immunization, types of vaccinations and their side effects. At the start, the women sat quietly with their children, listening intently. Towards the end of the session, the facilitator quizzed the participants on their learning. With laughter, the women worked together to provide the right answers, and then lined up with their children to receive the vaccines administered by the health centre staff.
Health education sessions on immunization in Sre Russey helps to increase participation in the vaccination outreach sessions. “Parents are encouraged to bring their children to the health centre if they miss an outreach session,” said by Ms. Eam Samrith. “I know that it is hard, but when I see villagers have gained knowledge, changed attitudes towards vaccines and other health care services, I feel more encouraged to do my volunteer work I am happy with my work to help the families in my village,” she continued.
Despite the marked change in attitudes towards vaccinations in the village, the Thalaborivath health centre immunization results from the first eight months in 2019 was still low. Penta vaccinations protect children from five types of disease, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B and haemophilia influenza. To complete the course, children must receive all three vaccines. In the village, 44 per cent of children completed the third dose. There is still a high dropout rate after the first dose, at 36 per cent. Education sessions are working, but more are needed combined with outreach services to create a demand for immunizations in the village and save children’s lives.