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At a glance: Sierra Leone

In Sierra Leone, addressing Ebola’s impact on birth registration

By Issa Davies

As birth registration in Sierra Leone has fallen since the start of the Ebola outbreak, a campaign reaches out to register children under age 5 and at the same time to provide polio vaccinations.

© UNICEF Sierra Leone/2015/Davies
A mother with her baby who has just been issued a birth certificate, at Mile 14 village, Kambia, as part of a five-day birth registration campaign in Sierra Leone.

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone, 31 July 2015 – Abass Mansaray, a 48-year-old farmer in Blama town, in eastern Sierra Leone, beamed proudly while displaying the small yellow paper that has just been given to his one-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Isata, by local health officials.

Isata is just one of the 200,000 children across Sierra Leone supported by a recent birth registration campaign organized by the ministry of Health and supported by UNICEF, the World Health Organization and Plan International.

According to the 2010 Multiple Indicators Survey, 22 percent of children in Sierra Leone at that time did not have their births registered. Initial data suggests that the Ebola epidemic has caused that figure to rise, because so many families, particularly in rural communities, have avoided health centres for fear of contracting the virus. 

The five-day registration exercise also provided regular polio vaccinations for under-5 children.  

Persistent fears

More than 10,500 health personnel, social mobilizers and volunteers were dispatched across the country, going from house to house to register under-5 children and administer the polio vaccine. Specially trained surveillance officers ensured that those living in Ebola-affected homes and villages that have been quarantined are registered and immunized.

© UNICEF Sierra Leone/2015/Davies
Health workers at the Blama Community Health Centre in Kenema head out for house-to-house visits carrying birth registration materials and vaccination kits.

The teams found that although there was greater public awareness of Ebola, its symptoms and how it is spread, fears still persisted in some communities.

“Some parents hid their children away from us, because they thought the registration was a strategy to infect their children with the Ebola virus,” said Ahmed Sesay, a health worker.  “Fortunately, each time we encountered resistance, we were able to persuade the families of the health benefits of the vaccine.” 

Geoff Wiffin, UNICEF Representative in Sierra Leone, says the push is the first time that a health campaign has been combined with a civil registration exercise.

“A birth certificate gives children rights to basic social services, like education and health care,” Mr. Wiffin says. “It can also protect them from many forms of child abuse, including juvenile detention and sexual violence.”
Illustrating the effectiveness of the campaign, many more parents came out with their children to get registered than was planned and expected.



UNICEF Photography: The end of Ebola begins at home

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