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Somalia, 16 May 2017: Hundreds of thousands of children immunized against measles in outbreak hotspots

© UNICEF/2017
During the measles vaccination campaign in South Galkayo, 15,000 children received vaccines as well as vitamin A supplement and a deworming tablet.

May 2017 – Two-year-old Absalah lets out a loud squeal just like any child his age would when getting a jab right on the arm. The sound tells not only the pain he is going through but also his resentment towards the seemingly awful treatment he is being accorded. But his exasperation is met by his mother’s comforting words: “Alright, alright,” she says, beaming from ear to ear. “It is good for you. And it will keep you healthy.”

Over the past two weeks, scenes like this have been repeated in many camps for the displaced persons in central and southern Somalia. Under the blazing sun, at the vaccination posts set up in various camps, mothers and sometimes fathers wait patiently in line to have their little ones protected against a deadly disease. In addition to a shot, the children also get vitamin A supplement and a deworming tablet – chewed by older children and crushed and mixed with water for easier intake by the younger ones.

“We lost everything. All our animals are dead,” says Absalah’s mother, Nuna. “We walked for seven days to come to Baidoa. We need food and water.”

Nearly 900 kilometers to the north, in South Galkayo, a mother named Qali has an almost identical story to tell. “We lost all our camels. We fled here to look for food and water for our children to survive.”

Since the beginning of the year, a set of diseases has been afflicting Somalia. First, it was an outbreak of acute watery diarrhoea/cholera that has showed no sign of relenting. Nearly 38,000 cases have been reported, far surpassing the 15,000 cases in 2016. Then it was measles, 7,000 cases to date, two thirds of which were among children under-five.

In additional to disease outbreaks, the drought emergency has triggered displacement of nearly 700,000 Somalis, and left 6.7 million people – more than half of the population – destitute and in need of humanitarian assistance. In hope of finding aid, desperate families are crowding into towns like Baidoa and Galkayo.

In April, Baidoa received more than 34,000 new arrivals, and in March, 70,000. The overcrowded camps around town – now nearly 170 of them, hosting 170,000 people – offer almost no sanitation facilities and with limited access to clean water. It is a perfect breeding ground for outbreaks such as diarrhoea and measles.

“Every day, there are new displaced families arriving in camps in Baidoa. Our facility is overwhelmed and our staff are not prepared to provide services to a population of such a size,” says Isak Ali Subug, Health Minister of South West State, at the measles vaccination launch in Baidoa.

With the help of UNICEF, WHO and partners, the governments administering Baidoa and South Galkayo reached some 45,000 children with measles vaccine over the past weeks. Another campaign will soon be conducted in the district of Banadir where Mogadishu is located; and Afgooye corridor, where large number of displaced families converge before they make it to the capital Mogadishu in search of assistance.

Another 125,000 children under-five in these two areas will be vaccinated against the killer disease.

“Measles kills children, particularly those suffering from malnutrition – this is one tragic lesson we learned from the 2011 famine,” says Jayne Mbakaya, UNICEF Programme Manager. “The only way to prevent it from spreading is to make sure all children are vaccinated. And we must do it now to save lives.”



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