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Myanmar, Republic of the Union of

Investing in polio vaccination for all of Myanmar’s children

© UNICEF Myanmar/2009
Health worker Nang Noon Kham administers oral polio vaccination to Ey Tun, 2, son of Ei Tume, in Ho Waing village, part of Wein Kao Township, Myanmar.

By Wendy Myint-Myint Hla

NORTHERN SHAM STATE, Myanmar, 22 January 2009 – Despite demanding tasks at home and on the family plantation, Ei Tume, 20, had a sound reason to be excused from her daily duties. As a health team arrived in Ho Waing village, part of Wein Kao Township, Ei Tume brought her two-year-old son, Ey Tun, to the village immunization post.

There, she joined hundreds of other mothers bringing their young children to first round of National Immunization Days (NIDs) held earlier this month. “I am bringing my child for immunization because I believe that he will become healthy and grow stronger,” the young mother said.

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Some children were brought to the immunization post by their grandmothers and grandfathers, freeing parents from the burden of missing daily wages. Many families here work on the rubber plantation located in the mountainous Wa region, where people from the Wa, Lahu and Shan ethnic groups co-exist.

Meeting the challenges
“It is important that we have good cooperation with their village leaders first,” said Nang Noon Kham, 31, health worker and mother of a 20-month-old boy. “If the village leaders understand the benefits of polio immunization, so will the mothers and their families, because they trust and respect them.”

Ms. Noon Kham added that transportation poses a substantial hurdle for the initiative, as some villages are only reachable via a difficult two- to three-hour walk.

“The villages are scattered in very high, mountainous terrain, sometimes as high as 6,000 to 7,000 feet,” explained Wein Kao Township Medical Officer Dr. Aung Myint Tun. “We have been working very hard so that this campaign will be a success.”

NIDs ideally meet these challenges, providing opportunities for many children living in remote areas to gather at central locations be immunized at once. The campaigns aim to reach every child, overcoming transportation, cultural and social barriers.

© UNICEF/2009/Myo Thame
A child in Wein Kao Township is vaccinated against polio as part of Myanmar’s National Immunization Days campaign.

Meeting such lofty goals requires the cooperation of township and village authorities, as well as the involvement of religious leaders and non-governmental organizations. Every effort must be invested.

Aim is to reach 7 million
In response to the polio outbreak that ravaged the nation in 2007, the Myanmar Ministry of Health organized a series of immunization activities with the support of UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the Japan Committee on Vaccines for the World’s Children.

NIDs were successfully carried out in January and February 2008 in Myanmar, providing relief to the areas where Cyclone Nargis caused serious damage and temporarily interrupted health surveillance and immunization activities.

The Ministry of Health has trained more than 16,000 health workers and mobilized 32,000 volunteers who will work for the NIDs at designated immunization sites and through community outreach.

The first round of polio immunizations for 2009 took place from 10 to 12 January, and the second round is scheduled for 7 to 9 February. The NIDs programme aims to immunize more than 7 million children under the age of five in Myanmar.




12 January 2009: UNICEF correspondent Natacha Ikoli reports on the year's first round of National Immunization Days against polio in Myanmar.
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