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Rwanda, 22 June 2015: Vaccination Week supported by UNICEF at Mahama Refugee Camp

© UNICEF Rwanda/2015/Mugabe
Vaccination week at the Mahama Refugee camp for the Burundian refugees.

By Mike Pflanz in Mahama

22 June 2015 – Cansilde Miburo knows the dangers of measles only too well. When her second son, Niyomwungeri, was four years old, he developed a rash and a fever that at first she thought the same condition his elder brother once had, which she treated with traditional medicine.

It was not. Niyomwungeri had measles, and it was only when she took him to the hospital where she lived back home in Burundi that he was given the correct treatment. He survived, but his mother was understandably distraught.

Now Cansilde and her children are refugees, prompted by increasing pre-election violence at home to seek safety in Rwanda, where they now live in a purpose-built camp called Mahama that is already home to 24,000 Burundians. It is managed by UNHCR and the Government of Rwanda’s Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (MIDIMAR).

When Cansilde heard that there was to be a mass measles and polio vaccination at the camp, which was financed by UNICEF, she says she was among the first in the line at the immunisation tent to have her children protected. “My son was very sick with this thing before, I know the dangers,” she said.

Those dangers could be very real for the 54 per cent of registered Burundian refugees in Rwanda who are children. “We know from other refugee camp contexts elsewhere that the concentration in one small area of many children whose immunisation status is unknown can be a recipe for any diseases to spread quickly,” said Oliver Petrovic, UNICEF Rwanda’s Deputy Representataive.

The answer: immunise every single child in the camp in one go. On 23 and 24 May, the Ministry of Health and its partners in the One UN in Rwanda did just that.

© UNICEF Rwanda/2015/Pflanz
Burundi refugee children receive polio vaccines administered by oral drops during a mass measles and polio immunisation financed and organised by UNICEF.

Over the two days of that weekend, at ten sites around Mahama, vaccinators, community health workers and nurses worked from early morning until sunset giving more than 10,500 children a variety of immunisations, medicines and supplements to keep them as healthy as possible in the circumstances.

Children aged between nine months and 15 years old were given a measles shot. Those under five received polio immunisation drops. Alongside these vaccinations against potentially deadly diseases, children aged from six months to five years old were given Vitamin A supplements, while those one year to 15 years old got deworming pills. In each case, more than 90 per cent of the number of children targeted showed up for the event.

The benefits to the refugee population are obvious. But the vaccination campaign also means that there is a very low risk of any illness breaking out in the camp that could then spread to the host Rwandan community living nearby.

“Among such a population living under those prevailing conditions [in a refugee camp], there is bound to be an outbreak of diseases, therefore an immunisation campaign was sought as a way of prevention,” said Dr Jean de Dieu Ngirabega, the director of clinical services at the Ministry of Health’s Rwanda Biomedical Center for infectious diseases.

“We hope to continue with the campaign for the refugees who are still coming to ensure a healthy population.”



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