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Bangladesh stages massive measles–rubella immunization campaign

© UNICEF Bangladesh/2014/Kiron
Children queue for immunizations. The campaign to protect children from measles and rubella, which has been underway since 25 January, is set to reach 52 million children aged 9 months to 15 years.

By Munima Sultana

Bangladesh is staging the largest measles–rubella vaccination campaign the country has ever seen.

TANGAIL DISTRICT, Bangladesh, 18 February 2014 – Sajib is 13 years old. He is in Grade 7 at Buruha high school, in Tangail district, Bangladesh. A couple weeks ago, as he cycled past the Charpara immunization centre, he saw the banner and stopped. He’d missed his measles–rubella vaccine, when it was administered at school.

After he’d had his vaccine, Sajib went home to send his younger brothers and sister to be vaccinated.

Massive campaign underway

Sajib and his siblings took part in a massive measles–rubella immunization campaign that has been underway since 25 January to protect vulnerable children in Bangladesh. The campaign is set to reach 52 million children aged 9 months to under 15 years.

The campaign is one of the largest public health mobilization efforts ever staged in Bangladesh. It has engaged thousands of vaccinators and volunteers, covering more than 170,000 schools and 150,000 immunization centres over a three-week period.

Interest at every level

Since the start of the campaign, there has been tremendous interest among school authorities, as well as parents.

“We are getting a huge response,” says Dr. Purabi Ahmed, project manager at the Urban Primary Healthcare Services Delivery Project. “People from all walks of life are pouring in to have their children vaccinated in our centres.

“As all children are not school-goers, the latter part of the campaign concentrates on having children vaccinated in their communities through the community-based vaccination programme,” he adds.

© UNICEF Bangladesh/2014/Kiron
The campaign, one of the largest public health mobilization efforts ever staged in Bangladesh, has engaged thousands of vaccinators and volunteers to reach children in schools as well as in hard-to-reach areas.

As a part of this community-level campaign, immunization centres have been set up in remote areas including char (river island) areas throughout the country. To reach children on the move, vaccination centres have been set up in bus, train and ferry terminals.

The trained vaccinators are able to trace children and bring them under the measles–rubella vaccination programme.

Children who have missed their school programmes, like Sajib, are targeted, as well. “We sent messages to nearby schools to send students who missed the vaccine during the school-level campaign,” explains Momenur Rahman, health assistant at the immunization centre in Mahmudnagar, which is adjacent to Charpara, in a remote part of Tangail district.

Mr. Rahman points out that the public trust and confidence that have come out of the country’s polio immunization campaigns are helping the government implement the country’s largest ever measles–rubella vaccination campaign successfully.

Communities rally

Indeed, people in rural communities have thrown their weight behind the campaign, as they are only too eager to see children in good health. Hazi Abdul Jabbar, a 90-year-old landlord in Charpara, has opened his house to be used as an immunization site. In fact, he has been allowing his home to be used to help implement vaccination programmes since 1985.

Mosammat Asma Khatun, a Grade 5 student at Kakoli school in Mahmudnagar, has been a vaccine champion, himself. “After I received the vaccine, I went back to school during closing time to cross-check if any of my friends had been left out,” he says.
Bangladesh has demonstrated the highest political commitment to eradicating polio. The country has also made impressive progress in eliminating neonatal tetanus and in measles control.

According to UNICEF Representative Pascal Villeneuve,“Immunization plays a critical role in reducing infant and child mortality and morbidity. Given the commitment and determination shown by the government and partners, we are confident that this momentous effort will make a significant and sustained contribution to child survival in Bangladesh.”

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