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In remote communities, Child Health Days bring life-saving services to Somali women and children

© UNICEF Somalia/2010/Morooka
A child receives a vitamin A supplement during the Child Health Days campaign in Hayaayabo village, north-west Somalia, near the border with Ethiopia.

By Iman Morooka

BOROMA, Somalia, 9 June 2010 – Among the many mothers who came with their children to the Child Health Days campaign site, Abdi Ibrahim was one of very few fathers to be seen. He came early in the morning with his 16-month-old daughter, Sahra, to make sure she is vaccinated against preventable diseases.

There are no primary health care facilities here in Hayaayabo village, located in a hilly area on the outskirts of Boroma town and close to the border with Ethiopia. Nonetheless, the Child Health Days initiative – supported by UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) – is making it possible for children and women living in such underserved areas to receive free health interventions. While hundreds of thousands of Somalis have already been reached by previous rounds of the campaign, more work remains to be done.

© UNICEF Somalia/2010/Morooka
A woman receives a tetanus vaccine during the Child Health Days campaign in Hayaayabo village, north-west Somalia.

Emerging from tragedy

Mr. Ibrahim came to know about the health services available to his daughter from the cars that went around with campaign banners and megaphones. “I was so happy to know that the team will come to our village,” he said. “I have been expecting them and I was one of the first ones to be at the site.”
Mr. Ibrahim’s determination to ensure a healthy start for Sahra is a result of a tragic experience that his family endured recently. Six months ago, his two-year-old daughter, Nagat, died of measles.
“I didn’t vaccinate Nagat because the clinic is far, and there weren’t teams like this one coming to our village,” said Mr. Ibrahim, adding that he still blames himself for Nagat’s death. “My daughter got sick when I was traveling, and when I came back home, she had already been sick for three days. She had fever and stopped eating even her favorite food. I tried to make her drink milk but she vomited everything.” Nagat passed away after being ill for eight days.

The Child Health Days campaign offers immunization against the deadly measles virus. It also protects against polio, diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus, screens the nutritional status of each child, and offers vitamin A supplementation, oral rehydration salts and water purification tablets. Women of child-bearing age are vaccinated against neonatal tetanus.

© UNICEF Somalia/2010/Morooka
Abdi Ibrahim, father of four, holds his 16-month-old daughter Sahra in front of the makeshift hut where the family lives in Hayaayabo village, near Boroma, Somalia.

‘Life is very tough’

Mr. Ibrahim is originally from Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, but he became displaced in the early 1990s as violence tore through the city. After more than ten years, he returned to Mogadishu and opened a barber shop there, only to be caught in a conflict zone again. In 2006, after Mr. Ibrahim’s sister was injured in the fighting, the family was forced to flee Mogadishu again – and has not returned since.

Mr. Ibrahim now lives with his pregnant wife and four children in a hut made of old pieces of rags in Hayaayabo village, in the north-west of the country. “Peace is the only thing that is good about living here now,” he said of the impoverished village. “Otherwise life is very tough.”
The six-member family– soon to be seven – survives mainly on Mr. Ibrahim’s daily income of about $2, which he earns working at a local barber shop. It is barely enough to meet all the family’s basic needs. “We have one proper meal a day, normally rice or maize [cornmeal], but I can’t afford to buy milk or meat for my children,” said Mr. Ibrahim. He has been trying for months to save money to buy a plastic sheet to cover the hut from the rain, but so far he hasn’t been able to. “To support the family, my wife makes snacks and sells them at a school nearby. She is out today for work so I was the one to bring Sahra for vaccination.”
Living conditions in the village are poor. Although it is not too far from the main town, basic social services are lacking, including safe water and primary health care. The nearest water point is more than 2.5 km away, making daily life difficult and health and hygiene precarious. 

A lifeline for children

In Hayaayabo and other villages outside the reach of Somalia’s all-too-limited health infrastructure, the Child Health Days campaign is offering a lifeline for children – and their parents.
Thanks to the campaign, Mr. Ibrahim said that he no longer has to take chances with the health of his children. “I realize now the importance of vaccination and will not make the same mistake again,” he said. “From now on, I will always make sure to take my children to be immunized.”

The massive initiative is targeting more than 1.6 million children under five and 1.8 million women of child-bearing age across Somalia. It is repeated every six months to ensure the maximum positive impact on child survival. Child Health Days in Somalia is supported by contributions from UNICEF and WHO partners, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, the UK Department for International Development, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations and the Governments of Japan, Denmark and Norway.



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