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At a glance: Sierra Leone

UNICEF and GAVI provide immunization to Sierra Leone

© UNICEF video
A baby receives a vaccination as part of the UNICEF and GAVI campaign to immunize children in Sierra Leone.

By Kitty Logan

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone, 31 March 2009 – On the dusty streets of a Freetown suburb, a crowd slowly shuffles along to find work. There is silence. Everyone here struggles to keep going. Poverty is the norm.

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These adults could be considered the lucky ones. They have survived their childhood. Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world, and its people are exposed to a range of killer diseases. Children are the most vulnerable; many die at a young age from illnesses that could easily be prevented.

“Sierra Leone has very high infant and child mortality,” said UNICEF Sierra Leone’s Project Manager for Immunization, Dr. Nuhu Maksha. “One of the key interventions for reducing these deaths is immunization, which has proved to be a very cost-effective and evidence-based intervention.”

© UNICEF video
The GAVI Alliance has committed $24 million to Sierra Leone to buy vaccines such as the five-in-one shot, which protects against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B and Hib.

Help needed for health care

But people here need help in getting the vaccinations in a country that suffered a decade of brutal civil war. The government lacks funds and infrastructure. Despite the best intentions, it has neither the mechanism nor the means to provide adequate health care for its people.

UNICEF helps out with many different kinds of health services in local clinics. One of the most important is the immunization programme. UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) work on vaccination programmes with the Geneva-based GAVI Alliance, which makes vaccines available to millions in the world’s poorest countries.

GAVI has already committed $24 million to immunization in Sierra Leone. The money is spent on vaccines like the five-in-one shot, which protects against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B and Hib. UNICEF and WHO make sure the vaccines are administered to all the children who need them.

Overcoming logistical challenges

There are logistical challenges in reaching everyone in remote areas, however.

“It is difficult – one, for the time, and then second, for the distance,” said Dr. Maksha. “Some of the mothers live very far away from the health facilities. So they have to travel or walk long distances … to get the child immunized. There are some others who may be close the facility, but because they don’t see the value in the immunization, they may not come.”

Despite these difficulties, the trend is positive. Immunization coverage for babies has already greatly increased in Sierra Leone – and UNICEF aims to reach more children in the future, knowing that every vaccination could prevent a death.




February 2009:
UNICEF correspondent Kitty Logan reports on a child immunization programme in Sierra Leone.
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