Long life for all

vaccination for children affected by conflict

By Demissew Bizuwerk
Vaccination Campaign Waghimra Zone
UNICEF Ethiopia/2022/Mulugeta Ayene
10 June 2022

“I didn’t want to get married. I wanted to continue my education,” said 18-year-old Tejnesh Haile who currently lives in Mindikru IDP site, near the town of Sekota.  

Tejnesh was forced into marriage when she was only sixteen and in grade five. It wasn’t her wish, but she had no choice, but to quit school and became a housewife.  

When the northern Ethiopia conflict broke out last year, Tejnesh was pregnant with her first child. As the conflict intensified, the family was not able to farm, and basic services were also disrupted. “I worried a lot about myself and my unborn child,” she said. “Everything was closed, no health services, no food.”  

Tejnesh delivered her child at home after three days of labour, only attended by her mother.  With no food and medical care nearby, she fled to Sekota with her four-month-old daughter, Abbe Wolde.  

Born in conflict, Abbe has never been vaccinated. She and thousands of other children were missing out on their vaccinations because health services are disrupted in conflict-affected woredas of the Waghimra zone.  

Vaccination Campaign Waghimra Zone
UNICEF Ethiopia/2022/Mulugeta Ayene

In early May, UNICEF, with support from USAID and in collaboration with the Amhara regional health bureau, ran a measles vaccination campaign. Along with the campaign, catch-up routine immunization activities were also carried out to protect children like Abbe from vaccine-preventable diseases like polio.  

The campaign targeted children in IDP sites and villages affected by the conflict. In addition, children and pregnant women were also screened for their nutrition status so that those who were malnourished were linked to nutrition services.  

When the campaign started at Mindikru, where more than 2,000 displaced people are staying, Tejnesh wasted no time. She stood in line with Abbe strapped comfortably on her back. Hundreds of other women also brought their children to the vaccination site set up under a tree.   

“We are vaccinating children for measles. Many children either missed some of their vaccinations or have never been vaccinated at all; so, this campaign is very important,” said Mariam Kegne, a health extension worker who is also displaced by the conflict. “We [health workers] are glad to provide the services here.” 

Vaccination Campaign Waghimra Zone
©UNICEF Ethiopia/2022/Mulugeta Ayene

While Mariam attends to children at the IDP site, another health extension worker, Misawey Abate and her colleagues climbed up the cliffs to reach the rocky mountainous village of Aba Yohannes, carrying vaccine cold boxes and other essential items.  

Vaccination Campaign Waghimra Zone
UNICEF Ethiopia/2022/Mulugeta Ayene

Berhane Alayu, a mother of five children, also brought her six-month-old child Kalkidan Alem. Like Abbe, Kalkidan is also vaccinated for the first time. “When our health post was closed during the conflict, I was worried that my child could get ill because she was not vaccinated. I am happy that the health workers came to our village today,” said Berhane. 

Close to 24,000 children aged 6 to 23 months got vaccinated for measles while over 8,200 children received their routine vaccination in the five-days campaign, thanks to the dedication of health workers like Mariam and Misawey.  

“The overall objective of this immunization campaign is to reduce the incidence of debilitating disease outbreaks which can be easily prevented by vaccines,” said Dr Ambanesh Necho, UNICEF Health Specialist. “We aim to vaccinate 95 per cent of children aged 6-24 months against measles. We also make sure that children, who missed out on their vaccination due to routine immunization service interruption, are covered.”   

Forced into child marriage, giving birth in disaster and displaced by conflict, Tejnesh endured a lot in her young life. Yet, she has not lost hope. Even if she says, ‘it is late’, she still wants to continue her education. But now, her main concern is the well-being of her daughter to whom she wishes for a much better life.