Protecting children against measles in Romania
Parents living in Strehaia, a Roma community in South-West Romania, nod and smile in relief after watching a short video shown by their local physician on the benefits of immunizing their children. The physician answers questions from the parents before they gather their children and move to the next room where all of the children are vaccinated. The children range in age from young toddlers to 18 years old. The young ones hold their mothers’ hands tightly, but the older ones laugh and ask to watch the film again. The film is part of UNICEF Romania’s ongoing support to the Ministry of Health’s efforts to increase immunization coverage and prevent the spread of measles. Vaccination coverage in Romania has declined since 2000. In 2017, only 75 per cent of children had received two doses of Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine – a coverage rate far below the recommended 95 per cent needed to protect all children. As a result of low immunization coverage, Romania has experienced a measles outbreak, with over 15,000 people affected since 2016. This includes 59 deaths, the majority being children. As part of ongoing efforts to increase immunization coverage, in July 2018 Romania’s Ministry of Health launched a door-to-door catch up campaign to vaccinate children who missed their vaccinations. In support, UNICEF developed a series of materials to provide parents with easy to understand, factual information about the benefits and process of children being immunized. These materials include the short film watched by families in Strehaia. The film is shown to parents and families in the most vulnerable communities in Romania - people living in hard to reach areas, those affected by poverty, and Roma communities. These communities often have children with the lowest rates of immunization. The film talks about the necessity and benefits of vaccination and, at the same time, addresses the most common vaccine-related questions from parents: Is it safe to vaccinate my child? What if she/he catches another disease? What if my child gets sick after the vaccination? Is the vaccine free of charge? A girl is vaccinated at a community center in Buhuși, in Eastern Romania as part of the UNICEF and WHO supported immunization catch-up campaign. A girl is vaccinated at a community center in Buhuși, in Eastern Romania as part of the UNICEF and WHO supported immunization catch-up campaign. “In the beginning parents did not want to vaccinate their children, but then they put their trust in us. We told them vaccines are good and we encouraged them to ask the doctor all the questions they have during the campaign. So they were able to have a clear picture on the benefit of vaccination,” said Gabriela Stan, a health mediator in the town of Buhuși, in Eastern Romania. Gabriela was part of the team that went door-to-door to inform parents from vulnerable communities about the benefits of vaccination. Although there have been positive developments in reaching vulnerable children with lifesaving MMR immunizations over the past few months in Romania, until the coverage rate reaches 95 per cent, children will remain at risk.
Turning every “no” into a “yes” to protect children from the current measles outbreak in Romania
Over 19,000 people in Romania have been diagnosed with measles since 2016. To date, 64 people have died – 58 of them children. The outbreak is the result of a drop-in immunization coverage over the past two decades, with many parents fearful of vaccination, due to the spread of misinformation. For example, the proportion of children who have received a second dose of the measles vaccine – which is needed to adequately protect a child form the deadly disease - dropped from 97 per cent in 2000 to 76 per cent in 2016. It was only after UNICEF started re-engaging in the national measles programme that this drop was stopped, and the coverage is currently up 5 percent from 2016 for the second dose. UNICEF focused on improving immunization awareness of the general public via TV, radio and social media, as well as on redesigning the national electronic vaccination registry, on conducting catchup immunization campaigns in areas with extremely low coverage, and on improving behavior and communication skills of local health workers on immunization. Besides these actions, UNICEF supported teams of health and social workers in 45 communities in Bacău county, in eastern Romania. Their interventions focus on providing a minimum package of community-based health services, including access to vaccination, to save and improve children’s lives. Adina and Didina are two mothers who have been reached by these community-based teams, and whose children are now fully immunized against the disease. The initiative relies on the work of health professionals such as Gabi Stan and social workers like Magda Grigoriu to build trust with families. Delia and Mario are the first children to come home from school, followed by Alberto at 2 pm and Petrina at 3 pm. All four children do their homework at this small table with their mother Adina. Delia and Mario are the first children to come home from school, followed by Alberto at 2 pm and Petrina at 3 pm. All four children do their homework at this small table with their mother Adina.
Precious support in the game of life
Thanks to funding from the European Union ‘RM Child-Health’ initiative, UNICEF works to ensure that all refugee and migrant children in Bosnia and Herzegovina have access to primary health care, including paediatric services and, in the case of 10-year old Maisa, a vital pair of glasses. “I will wear these glasses all the time. I hope I won't lose them during the next ‘game’", says 10-year-old Maisa.* In Maisa’s world, the word "game" does not mean playing with her friends. It is the slang she uses to describe the attempts she and her family – originally from Iran – have made to cross the border from Bosnia and Herzegovina into the European Union in search of a more a promising future. To date, all of their attempts have failed. But they will keep trying. Maisa is at the opticians in Cazin, trying to decide which eyeglasses suit her best, having been brought here previously by a team from UNICEF and the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), with funding from the EU’s ‘RM Child-Health’ initiative, to have her eyes tested by an ophthalmologist. Trying on glasses while wearing protective face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is an additional challenge, making it difficult for her to judge how the glasses look. Her dad, Zerin*, helps her choose and she is delighted with the purple-framed glasses that will come ‘home’ with her to the Sedra reception centre in Bihać. A pair of glass might seem like a small thing, but for Maisa, this is a joyous moment that will enhance her view of the world around her. Human lives are at stake in the game played by Maisa and her family. She has endured so many challenges since she left her native Tehran a year ago. At the time, she still had multifocal glasses that were suitable for treating her strabismus. However, the unpredictable life on the migrant route meant that Maisa lost her glasses long before the family arrived in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Her new glasses will allow her to continue her treatment for strabismus and help repair her damaged vision. Maisa at the pediatric clinic Maisa at the pediatric clinic of the Sedra Reception Center, her medical examination before heading off to the optical shop to get new eyeglasses. Back at the Sedra reception centre, Maisa talks about her hopes. She can't explain exactly why she wants her wanderings on the European continent to end happily in England, but maybe the staff of the reception centre are partly responsible for that: "They teach me English and thanks to them, I speak better because I want to be able to express myself clearly” she says to her Farsi translator, who helps to enhance communication between children like Maisa and local health services. The family’s attempts to cross the border to find a better life somewhere in the north of Europe have taken their toll on Maisa’s education. Nevertheless, her English flows with such ease and eloquence that one almost forgets she is sitting in the reception centre’s modest and crumbling paediatric clinic. She could be doing her medical examination before enrolling in a prestigious international school. The healthcare professionals at the Sedra clinic cannot estimate exactly how many children it is serving at the moment, as children so often go to ‘games’ with their families. Some return, some don’t, and new children arrive, with different health issues, of different ages and from different backgrounds. The reception centre is occupied mostly by families with children, so there has been a clear need for paediatric services for a long time. Maisa entering the pediatric clinic Maisa entering the pediatric clinic of the Sedra Reception center, where along with her medical check-ups she is practicing her English skills and conversing with the medical workers. According to its team of paediatricians, children most often come to the clinic for general health examinations, or because of respiratory and gastrointestinal infections. Babies are also taken care of, in addition to examinations, therapies and dressing services. If the outpatient clinic can’t provide the care that is needed, children are referred to the Bihać Cantonal Hospital or the Cazin Health Center. And it is thanks to this referral system, supported by the ‘RM Child-Health’ initiative, that Maisa was referred to the ophthalmologist. In total, more than 750 children were helped by the paediatric clinic between January and September 2020. "Thanks to the support of the EU ‘RM Child-Health’ initiative, and the work of the DRC and our partners working within reception centres, the quality and number of services provided to children in need of health care have increased significantly since we founded the pediatric units in Sedra and Borići”, says Amila Madžak, Education officer at the UNICEF office in Bihać. “This has had a positive impact on individuals and families, and on migrant communities, as well as on wider public health. Help is also provided for unaccompanied children living in the reception centres in Bira and Miral. In addition to basic services, the paediatric care on offer also includes immunization services, systematic examinations, ophthalmological and dental services, consultations, training and coaching for children and adults. We also went through the first cycle of immunization with 500 children in the USC, and we are continuing with the next cycle in the Una Sana Canton, as well as in Sarajevo Canton." Fortunately, Maisa's problem was much easier to solve than many other health problems faced by the children of migrants, refugees and by unaccompanied minors. For many of them, this is the end of the road, with no prospect of going any further. And going further is what Maisa has been dreaming of since embarking on this unpredictable journey: the London rain, the British accent and the ability to use her eyes to their full potential. *Names changed to protect identities. This story is part of the Project Strengthening Refugee and Migrant Children’s Health Status in Southern and South Eastern Europe, Co-funded by the Health Programme of the European Union (the ‘RM Child-Health’ initiative). Logo The content of this article represents the views of the author(s) only and is his/her sole responsibility; it cannot be considered to reflect the views of the European Commission and/or the Consumers, Health, Agriculture and Food Executive Agency or any other body of the European Union. The European Commission and the Agency do not accept any responsibility for use that may be made of the information it contains.
Oasis of health and joy
"I want to be a photographer, and you know that the most valuable tool for any photographer is their eyes," says 17-year-old Ferhat* as he contentedly nods to his reflection in the mirror, adjusting his glasses. It has been three years since he left his home in Tehran together with his parents and younger sister in search of a better life in Europe, and after years spent crossing different borders, he is no longer sure where the most serious game for a better life will take them. Game is the word that migrants use as a synonym for an attempt of crossing the border. Ferhat is currently residing in the temporary reception centre Sedra with his family. Last year they were all staying at a reception centre in Sarajevo, and according to him: wherever life brings them, everything will be fine as long as they are together. With the support from UNICEF, the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) staff, Ferhat came to the opticians shop in Cazin. "After they took away all my personal belongings at the border, including the glasses, the doctor at the Sedra Pediatric Clinic estimated that I needed an ophthalmologist's examination and a new set of glasses. Next I was assigned an appointment, a team from DRC and UNICEF came to pick me up and took me to the ophthalmologist, and when my dioptre was determined on examination, they also took me to an optician's shop to choose the appropriate frame. Today, after a procedure that lasted several days, I received my new glasses. "Thank you to everyone who helped me and everyone who helped my family, and to others from the centre, for their work and desire to fulfil basic human needs even in such conditions," says Ferhat. Refugree and migrant children take part in a dental workshop Refugree and migrant children take part in a dental workshop Unfortunately his family members were frequent patients of the medical centres whose services are provided by UNICEF and DRC through DG Health funding: his mother's hand healed only a few days ago when her cast was removed - she had previously broken her arm while trying to cross the border and his father is a regular patient given his continuously high blood pressure. During his previous attempt to cross the border Ferhat damaged his old, precious glasses that he has worn for the last four years - ever since doctors discovered his hereditary vision problem. He still has the right to use the services of a children's clinic, which, in addition to basic pediatric care services include immunization services, systematic examinations, ophthalmological check-ups, dental services and consultations for parents. Sedra and Borići are classic family camps: at the time of our visit, 213 people were accommodated in Sedra - of which 53 were children, and 51 families with children were accommodated in Borići. To make everyday life more tolerable for children in reception centres, UNHCR cooperates with Save the Children, Médecins de Monde (MDM), Church World Service (CWS), World Vision, and centres for social work Bihać, Cazin, Velika Kladuša, Ključ and Hadžići; and there are frequent activities for the youngest that partner organizations regularly carry out with the intention of entertaining, but also educating children in the mentioned centres. The focus of this workshop is dental hygiene, where the children are learning all the practices and putting their skills to the test with a demonstration model. The focus of this workshop is dental hygiene, where the children are learning all the practices and putting their skills to the test with a demonstration model. During our stay in the reception centre in Borići, there was a dental workshop organized in partnership with the local polyclinic Muminović. Through a series of games, children had the opportunity to learn how to properly maintain oral hygiene, how to properly brush their teeth, who to contact in case of dental problems, and at the end of the workshop, they were all given hygiene packages containing basic dental hygiene supplies. Their excitement was not disturbed by the mandatory protective masks which prevented them from trying out the contents of their hygiene packages right away. Additionally, because everyone had to wear masks indoors, the associates of the Muminović polyclinic brought out demonstration models with which the children could practically test the knowledge acquired during the workshop. Families with children are accommodated in two temporary reception centres (Borići and Sedra) in the Una-Sana Canton (USC), and the Sarajevo reception centre Ušivak and unaccompanied minors are accommodated in all five reception centres (including the Bira and Miral centres). Currently, there are about 4,000 refugees/migrants accommodated in four TRCs in the USC area, including about 500 children, unaccompanied children and children separated from their parents. Thanks to funding from the EU Health Programme (DG Health), UNICEF BIH ensures that all refugee and displaced children have access to primary health care, which in BiH, includes pediatric services as well. *Name changed to protect the identity of a minor
Strengthening the implementation of health policies
The initiative also promotes and supports multi-disciplinary approaches and teams to address the complex causes of health problems among refugee and migrant children – from trauma, anxiety and over-crowded conditions, to lack of hygiene facilities and immunization. As a result, support from the ‘RM Child-health’ initiative builds trust between refugee and migrant families and health providers. At the Centre for refugees and migrants near Bela Palanka in south-eastern Serbia, for example, the needs of refugee and migrant women have shaped the development of the Community Centre run by ADRA, with its Mother and Baby Corner for women with infants. Here, women can take part in language classes, sports activities and, crucially, in workshops about their own health and rights. “ The most important thing is that all the advice from our doctor is in line with their economic circumstances and current living situation [in Reception centres],” explains social worker Andja Petrovic. “The advice is tailored to their life and I think they particularly like that, because they can see that their situation is acknowledged. Because when they go to a doctor [in other facilities], they get advice that they can’t follow because they don’t have the living conditions for it.” Also in Serbia, funding from the ‘RM Child-health Initiative’ supports work by UNICEF and the Institute of Mental Health that looks beyond the provision of basic health care to assess the scale and nature of substance abuse among refugee and migrant communities. This cutting-edge field research will guide the development of materials and capacity building specifically for health and community workers who are in regular contact with young refugees and migrants, helping these workers to identify and tackle substance abuse by connecting children and youth to support services. As one researcher involved in the research commented: “Most of those children have spent several years without a home or any sense of stability. They can't make a single plan about the future since everything in their life is so uncertain. I can't begin to imagine how frightening that is.” By building greater rapport between frontline workers and children, and by equipping those workers with the support, skills and resources they need, the ‘RM Child-health’ initiative is helping to transform health policies into health practice. This vital work has been particularly crucial in 2020, as frontline workers have had to confront – and adapt to – the greatest public health crisis in living memory: the COVID-19 pandemic. Logo This story is part of the Project ‘Strengthening Refugee and Migrant Children’s Health Status in Southern and South Eastern Europe’, Co-funded by the Health Programme of the European Union (the ‘RM Child-Health’ initiative).It represents the views of the author only and is her sole responsibility; it cannot be considered to reflect the views of the European Commission and/or the Consumers, Health, Agriculture and Food Executive Agency or any other body of the European Union. The European Commission and the Agency do not accept any responsibility for use that may be made of the information it contains.
Strengthening national health capacity for refugee and migrant children
At first glance, helping a 10-year girl from Iran, now living in Bosnia and Herzegovina, get a new pair of glasses might seem a simple thing. For Maisa, however, this is the end result of a continuum of intensive support, from identifying a girl who struggles with an eye condition, to connecting her to a skilled ophthalmologist. And now Maisa stands in front of a mirror, trying on the glasses that will enhance her life, learning and play. Such a momentous day is only possible when an established health system is equipped to accommodate and respond to the complex needs of refugee and migrant children. Support from the ‘RM Child-Health’ initiative aims to reinforce and enhance health systems across five European countries (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy and Serbia) so that these systems can deliver the high-quality services that are the right of every child – and that every child needs, regardless of their origins. The aim: to ensure that health systems catch every refugee and migrant child who is in danger of slipping through the gaps. And there are additional benefits: a health system that works for these vulnerable and excluded children is a health system that works for every child, and that can reach those who are so often the very hardest to reach. This 24-month, €4.3 million initiative, which was launched in January 2020 by the European Union Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety, aims to strengthen the capacity of health systems to deliver health care to refugee and migrant children. That means ensuring access to life-saving immunization, to mental health and psycho-social support, and services to prevent and respond to gender-based violence, as well as maternal and new-born health care and nutrition. Stronger health systems are needed to overcome the bottlenecks that confront so many refugee and migrant families when they try to access health care. “ The profound challenges that often confront populations – especially children – on the move can include cultural and language barriers, stigma and discrimination on the part of health providers, and a lack of detailed medical records or paperwork,” says Dr. Basil Rodriques, UNICEF Regional Health Advisor. “They may also have their own reasons to distrust state-provided services, including fears of deportation.”
Защита детей от кори в Румынии
Родители из общины рома, проживающей в городе Стрехае на юго-западе Румынии, кивают и с облегчением улыбаются после просмотра короткого видеоролика о пользе иммунизации для их детей, показанного местным врачом. Врач отвечает на вопросы родителей, прежде чем они вместе со своими детьми перейдут в следующий кабинет, где всем детям будет проведена вакцинация. Здесь дети разного возраста: те, кто только начинает ходить, и те, кому уже исполнилось 18 лет. Самые маленькие крепко держат своих мам за руку, а те, кто постарше, улыбаются и просят посмотреть фильм еще раз. Производство и показ данного фильма осуществляется в рамках программы ЮНИСЕФ в Румынии по поддержке усилий министерства здравоохранения страны, направленных на повышение показателей охвата иммунизацией и предотвращение распространения кори. С 2000 года показатели охвата иммунизацией в Румынии значительно снизились. В 2017 году только 75 процентов детей получили две дозы вакцины MMR - комбинированной вакцины против кори, эпидемического паротита и краснухи. Этот показатель намного ниже рекомендованных 95 процентов, необходимых для защиты всех детей. В результате низких показателей охвата иммунизацией в Румынии произошла вспышка кори. В 2016 году ею заболели более 15 000 человек, из которых 59 человек умерли. Большинство из них составили дети. В рамках непрекращающихся усилий по повышению охвата детей иммунизацией, в июле 2018 года стартовала организованная министерством здравоохранения Румынии кампания по вакцинации детей, которые не были привиты. Для информирования населения о важном значении иммунизации участники кампании ходили по домам. В целях поддержки данной кампании ЮНИСЕФ разработал серию информационных материалов, предоставляющих предоставить родителям фактическую информацию о преимуществах и самом процессе иммунизации детей в доступной для понимания взрослых форме. В состав этих информационных материалов входит короткометражный фильм, который посмотрели семьи в Стрехае. Фильм демонстрируется семьям из наиболее уязвимых общин Румынии - родителям, живущим в труднодоступных районах, семьям, пострадавшим от нищеты, и общинам рома. Показатели иммунизации среди детей в этих общинах чаще всего самые низкие по стране. В этом фильме рассказывается о необходимости и преимуществах вакцинации, и одновременно даются ответы на часто задаваемые и волнующие родителей вопросы относительно вакцинации: Безопасно ли делать прививку моему ребёнку? Что делать, если она/он заболеют другой болезнью? Что, если мой ребёнок заболеет после прививки? Эта прививка бесплатна? A girl is vaccinated at a community center in Buhuși, in Eastern Romania as part of the UNICEF and WHO supported immunization catch-up campaign. Девочка получает прививку в общинном центре в Бухуши, в восточной Румынии, в рамках кампании по проведению вакцинации детям, которые её не прошли. Эта кампания проводится при поддержке ЮНИСЕФ и ВОЗ. «Вначале родители не хотели прививать своих детей, но потом они доверились нам. Мы рассказали родителям о пользе прививок и попросили их задавать врачу все вопросы, которые могут возникнуть у них в ходе проведения кампании. Таким образом, родители смогли получить чёткое представление о пользе вакцинации», - сказала Габриэла Стан, медицинский работник в городе Бухуши, в Восточной Румынии. Габриэла была членом группы, ходившей по домам, для того чтобы информировать родителей из уязвимых сообществ о преимуществах вакцинации. И хотя за последние несколько месяцев в Румынии произошли положительные сдвиги в деле вакцинации уязвимых детей спасающей жизни прививкой MMR, дети будут по-прежнему находиться в опасности до тех пор, пока охват иммунизацией не достигнет 95 процентов. ЮНИСЕФ в Румынии будет и впредь помогать в проведении информационно-разъяснительных кампаний о важном значении и необходимости вакцинации и поощрять всех родителей и лиц, обеспечивающих уход за детьми, к своевременному проведению этой профилактической процедуры. Таким путём они смогут защитить своих детей от болезней, предотвратимых с помощью вакцинации.