EASTERN AND SOUTHERN AFRICA feature story for Somalia

© UNICEF Somalia/2010/Morooka

Abdi Ibrahim holds his 16-month-old daughter Sahra in front of their home in Hayaayabo Village. Six months ago, his two-year-old daughter died of measles, but Sahra has been immunized during recent Child Health Days.

Child Health Days Bring Life-Saving Services to Somali children in remote and underserved communities

By Iman Morooka

7 June 2010, Hayaayabo Village, Boroma District, north-west Somalia: Among the many mothers who brought their children to the Child Health Days campaign site, Abdi Ibrahim was one of very few fathers to be seen. As his wife was selling snacks in a nearby school to help support the family, Mr. Ibrahim, a barber, came bright and early in the morning with his 16-month-old daughter, Sahra, to make sure she receives crucial immunization.

Living conditions are poor in Hayaayabo Village, located in a hilly area on the outskirts of Boroma, a town close to the border with Ethiopia. Although it is not too far from the main town, the village lacks such basic services as safe water and primary health care. The nearest water point is more than 2 kilometres outside the village, while the nearest health facility is 5 kilometres away.

The Child Health Days campaign offers a lifeline for those who can’t easily afford to travel in search of preventive care. The outreach initiative, supported by UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO), is making it possible for children and women living in such underserved areas to receive vital and free life-saving interventions. The campaign offers immunization against measles, polio, diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus to all children in Somalia. Children are also screened for nutritional status and given vitamin A supplementation, oral rehydration salts and water purification tablets. And women of childbearing age can receive vaccinations against neonatal tetanus.

Mr. Ibrahim came to know about the services from the cars that drove through the area promoting the campaign with banners and megaphones. “I was so happy to know that the team will come to our village,” he said, “I have been expecting them, and I was one of the first ones to be at the site.”

The father’s determination to ensure a healthy start for his young daughter is a result of a tragedy his family has already lived through. Six months ago, his 2-year-old daughter, Nagat, died of measles.

“I didn’t vaccinate Nagat because the clinic is far, and there weren’t teams like this one coming to our village,” said Mr. Ibrahim, who still blames himself for the death of his young child. “My daughter got sick when I was travelling, and when I came back home, she had already been sick for three days. She had fever and stopped eating even her favourite food. I tried to make her drink milk but she vomited everything.” Nagat died after eight days.

Mr. Ibrahim said that he will no longer take chances with his children: “I realize now the importance of vaccination and will not make the same mistake again. From now on, I will always make sure to take my children to be immunized.”
The campaign is repeated every six months to boost immunization coverage – and ensure an impact on child survival. As of mid-2010, 1.5 million children under 5 years old and 1.3 million women of childbearing age were reached with the national Child Health Days campaign since its inception in December 2008.

Since the beginning of the campaign, funding and support for implementation has been provided to local authorities, communities and NGOs by such Governments as Denmark, Japan and Norway, and by numerous organizations – including the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the Danish Committee for UNICEF, the GAVI Alliance, the Italian Committee for UNICEF, the Swedish Agency for International Development Cooperation (Sida), UKaid (Department for International Development), UNICEF, the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), the United Nations Foundation, the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, and WHO.

It is their commitment, and that of all the fathers and mothers who turn out with their children, that helps turn the tragic story of Nagat into the more hopeful one of Sahra.