Vaccines save lives

Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, to grow up healthy, every child needs to receive all the vaccines on their vaccination schedule.

A baby is vaccinated.
23 August 2021

Véronique, 32, has brought her six-week-old daughter to get vaccinated at the Alengo Health Centre in Sankuru province. Julie weighs 4.5 kilos and will be protected against polio and tuberculosis by the vaccine she gets today.

Véronique is so determined to keep up to date with Julie's vaccines because her first child was not fortunate enough to benefit from this vital protection. "Two years ago, I lost my first child," Véronique explains sadly. "When I was pregnant with my son, my husband didn't want me to go to any antenatal consultations." She gave birth at home and was unable to take her son for his routine vaccinations. "Vaccination makes children stupid and feeble," Véronique's husband, Jean-Paul Djamba, had said.

In Jean-Paul's family, no one had ever been vaccinated and everyone used traditional medicine when they fell ill. When he was two years old, Paul Junior's health deteriorated rapidly. "My son's lips turned red, he was itchy all over, he coughed a lot and you could see that he was losing weight," Véronique recalls. Despite the treatment recommended by the traditional healer, his health did not improve and he died a few days later from measles.

A baby is vaccinated.

Although progress has been made in recent years, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has one of the world's highest rates of child mortality. With only 35% of children aged 12-23 months fully vaccinated in the country, Paul Junior is one among far too many victims of vaccine-preventable diseases.

Since the death of her son, Véronique has become more aware than ever of why it is important to vaccinate children. When she gave birth to little Julie, she was determined; she went for check-ups throughout her pregnancy and never missed a consultation. Jean-Paul has also changed his mind about vaccination. "I was wrong, I didn't understand that times have changed," he explained with regret. 

A community relay raises awareness about vaccination.

Once strongly opposed to vaccination, this father has now become a community outreach worker to help prevent other children from suffering the same fate as his first. "When community outreach workers raise awareness about vaccination, we ask mothers to take their children to get vaccinated at the health centre as soon as possible, because it's what's best for them," Jean-Paul explains.

To address the low vaccination coverage rate in the country, in October 2018, the government launched the Mashako Plan, officially the Emergency Plan for the Revitalisation of Routine Immunization in the DRC [nicknamed after the late Minister of Health Professor Leonard Mashako Mamba]. With support from UNICEF and other partners, the number of vaccination sessions has increased by 50% in vulnerable provinces.