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In Mauritania, healthcare campaign aims to save children from preventable diseases

© UNICEF Mauritania/2012
A girl holds her sister and her sister's vaccination certificate in a poor suburb of Nouakchott, Mauritania.

By Fadila Hamidi and Anthea Moore

M’BOUT and NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania, 28 June 2012 – More than 500,000 children across Mauritania have benefited from a two-month campaign organized by the Ministry of Health, with support from UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO), that provided an integrated package of immunizations (including measles and polio vaccinations) and vitamin A supplementation for all Mauritanian children under 5 years old.

This preventative care is essential to building resilience in Mauritania’s children, who are highly vulnerable to malnutrition and illness this year due to the Sahel nutrition crisis, which currently affects 700,000 people in the country.

Expanding life-saving care

Immunizations were undertaken at health centres and specially designated sites in urban centres. Some 1,000 health workers went door-to-door, providing oral doses of vitamin A and deworming medicine, from remote desert communities to the shanty settlements around the capital Nouakchott. In addition, more than 1,000 community outreach events promoted hand-washing with soap, birth registration and positive parenting practices.

The campaign, part of the second African Immunization Week, was launched on 28 April at the opening of a new health centre in M’Bout. Officials from the Government of Mauritania, the WHO, Counterpart International and UNICEF were welcomed with traditional music, singing and dancing as the community celebrated the prospect of improved health care.

© UNICEF Mauritania/2012
UNICEF Representative in Mauritania Lucia Elmi administers a vitamin A supplement to a child during the country's two-month health campaign.

Fatou Mint Samba, 27, attended the opening of the health centre with her youngest son Abbass, who is 7 months old, and her mother Dola Mint Masa, who laughed and said she is too old to remember her age.

Many women like Ms. Mint Samba brought their children to the health centre to receive vaccinations and vitamin supplements. They were also eager to learn more about immunization and to receive insecticide-impregnated mosquito nets to protect against malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

Ms. Mint Masa lost a 5-year-old niece to measles, and has since been a strong community advocate for improved health care. “Last year there was a measles epidemic in this area. I went from door-to-door telling people to have their children vaccinated. I did this because I remember the death of my niece eight years ago,” she said.

“Many of the diseases that existed during my childhood don’t exist here anymore because of vaccination,” she added.

© UNICEF Mauritania/2012
Children attend the opening of a new medical centre in M'Bout, Mauritania.

Communities central to change

Preventative public health measures like immunization are both life-saving and cost-effective.

The logistical challenges of reaching remote communities in sparsely populated Mauritania are immense. And yet, excluding the cost of the vaccines and supplements, delivering this integrated package cost just 40 cents per child.

These services are particularly important during the current nutrition crisis, as malnutrition and childhood illnesses can create a vicious cycle, each increasing children’s vulnerability to the other.

After the official opening of the health centre, a radio programme was broadcast from a nearby tent. The presenter asked women from the community questions about immunization and awarded prizes for correct answers. The exchanges were accompanied by smiles, laughter and more music, signs that positive change is being embraced in the community, and that community members are proud to be at the centre of that change.



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