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Uganda, 16 November 2015: Life saving health interventions keep refugee children free from disease

By Proscovia Nakibuuka Mbonye

© UNICEF Uganda/2015

Amee Gai, a mother of six children and a South Sudanese refugee endures the long queues at Alere Health Centre II, on a Monday morning, to have her three and a half months old child immunized. She has also carried along her two other children for routine nutrition screening.

All the services she needs and more, are available at the Centre located in Alere Refugee Settlement, a home for over 5600 refugees from South Sudan who have sought asylum in Uganda since conflict broke out in mid-December 2013.

“I cannot go back home until my child is vaccinated,” the 38 year old mother says with a wide smile. All her three children look healthy. A state she attributes to immunization. “All my children have been immunized,” Amee mentions. “I know that when children are not immunized, they can catch all kinds of diseases like polio, that makes them lame,” she says as she gestures. “They also get other diseases like diarrhea and skin rashes,” implying measles when asked further.

“My children don’t fall sick that much because they are immunized,” Amee brags.

Amee is among many other mothers that frequent the Health Centre for medical services including Antenatal Care, Post Natal care, and immunization, among others. The number of mothers and children on this day is high but health workers at the Centre are determined to serve each and every one of them. “We want to ensure that no child is left unimmunized. This can bring us problems and easily lead to spread of immunizable diseases,” says Sister Annet Joyce, Nursing Officer and In-charge of the Health Centre.

Sister Annet Joyce stresses that when the refugees first arrived, many of their children were not immunized while many mothers who claimed their children had been immunized didn’t have any immunization cards or records to show their immunization history.

To avoid any possible polio or measles outbreaks, the health workers at Alere Health Centre embarked on a mass immunization drive, supported by UNICEF with financial assistance from the European Commission for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO). In addition, to ensure no child was left unimmunized, the team organised community outreaches, where services were taken closer to the communities specifically targeting those children that had not been immunized at the Centre. Refugee mothers were sensitized on the benefits of immunizing their children, a practice that was not common in South Sudan.

The immunization drives have been very successful and today, the health team proudly says they have not registered any polio or measles cases.

“I can confidently say we have managed to reach most of the children both refugees and those from host communities with our immunization services,” says Sister Annet Joyce with a smile. Our hard work has paid off. Despite the success registered, Sister Annet and her team are not about to relax because the reception centres still receive an average of 40 new refugees everyday majority of which are children.

After clearing the queues at the Health Centre, the team prepares to leave for a community outreach in Alere camp. At the outreach, mothers are waiting and happy to have their children vaccinated. This gives Sister Annet Joyce more joy. “We do all this to ensure that each and every eligible child in the camp and host communities is fully immunized,” she stresses.

The Health Centre has also introduced an integrated health package to ensure children are completely healthy. They emphasize that before any child is immunized, he/she should be screened for any nutritional deficiencies. To support this, all health workers at the same health centre have received training on nutrition screening, thanks to financial support from ECHO. This has enabled them easily identify, treat and refer malnutrition cases early, thereby saving many children. Nutrition screening has also been included as part of the community outreach sessions.

“These integrated lifesaving health interventions are providing refugee children and mothers with an opportunity to live a life free from preventable diseases, away from home,” says Jacob Opiyo, UNICEF Programme Officer.



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