“No need to risk the lives of children”

A Mother's story of her baby's whooping cough

UNICEF Kazakhstan
UNICEF Kazakhstan/Nazgul Madaliyeva
UNICEF Kazakhstan/Nazgul Madaliyeva
15 November 2021

Within the immunization programme, funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID),  UNICEF in Kazakhstan launched the “Vaccine” project telling the stories of people who have faced returning diseases. The project focuses on myths about vaccination and the challenges of immunization in Kazakhstan. Within the “Vaccine” project 21 articles were published reaching 987,767 views on various platforms. 

This is the story of Nazgul and her daughter Mariyam.

Mariyam was only 16 months old when she fell ill and started coughing. At first her parents thought it was the common cold but Mariyam did not have a runny nose or other symptoms of the cold. She had a dry cough and a slight rise in body temperature.

Mariyam’s parents scheduled an appointment at the local clinic in Almaty, where they were prescribed an antibiotic. Mariyam was taking it for five days, but the cough only intensified. 

While Mariyam was coughing she turned red, then blue. She could not stop and sometimes ended up vomiting.

“It was scary. With every coughing attack, she was choking on her vomit. She could not eat. Once Mariyam even lost consciousness, my husband had to do chest compressions”,

Nazgul, Mariyam’s mother, says.
ЮНИСЕФ Казахстан/Назгуль Мадалиева
ЮНИСЕФ Казахстан/Назгуль Мадалиева
Назгуль и Мариям дома

The illness lasted for about two months, and at first no one could find the cause. Doctors treated Mariyam for bronchitis and prescribed 2 courses of antibiotics. Nothing helped. The Madaliyevs visited the pulmonologist, but she could not diagnose their daughter either. Nobody asked if little Mariyam had had all the required vaccinations or not.

“We were sent to an infectious disease specialist about a month later, because the cough did not go away”, Nazgul said. At that time Mariyam’s mother was asked about vaccines, which Mariyam had not received on time. “Then it's whooping cough”, the doctor said.

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. Pertussis spreads easily from person to person mainly through droplets produced by coughing or sneezing. The disease is most dangerous in infants, and is a significant cause of disease and death in this age group.

Whooping cough is a preventable disease and a child can avoid this disease and its complications by getting vaccinated in accordance with the National Vaccination Calendar in Kazakhstan. 

Their neuropathologist did not recommend diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus vaccinations, because of the weak muscles of Mariyam, which turned out to be a false medical contraindication. 

According to the Parents’ knowledge, attitude and practice on childhood immunization research conducted by UNICEF in Kazakhstan, medical workers are the most trusted people for parents and caregivers in matters of vaccination. Within the USAID funded programme on strengthening the immunization system in Kazakhstan, UNICEF is providing a series of trainings in partnership with the Alliance of Family Doctors of Kazakhstan to enhance knowledge about false medical contraindications among healthcare providers and on interpersonal communication on immunization with the target audiences. 

“A false medical contraindication is one of the most common reasons for the low vaccination rates in Kazakhstan. In 2020 alone, 208,932 children received temporary medical contraindications and 2,642 permanent ones. Such a number of unvaccinated children is a clear prerequisite of potential future outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases,” says Assel Mussabekova, UNICEF Immunization Consultant. 

Mariyam was taken to the hospital, but her coughing stopped and she was sent home. 

There she started coughing again. During a severe coughing attack, Mariyam fainted once more. 

“We went back to the hospital, but the doctors couldn’t do anything much - we could have been treated with an antibiotic of a certain group only at the very beginning”, Nazgul says.

UNICEF Kazakhstan/2021/Nazgul Madaliyeva
ЮНИСЕФ Казахстан/Назгуль Мадалиева
Назгуль Мадалиева дома

“We had two nightmare months, but then everything calmed down”, Nazgul says.

When Mariyam recovered, Nazgul got her daughter all the required vaccines included in the National calendar of vaccination. 

When her third child was born, Nazgul immediately found a neuropathologist who adhered to evidence-based medicine and gave the go-ahead for vaccinations. The family vaccinated the child and everything went fine. Their eldest son also had all the vaccinations on schedule. 

Nazgul adds, “I am now talking relatively calmly, but then it was scary. Especially when I started reading stories about children getting sick and being in intensive care. After all, whooping cough is very dangerous in the first 2 years of life, because a child can die from apnea. My advice to moms: use evidence-based medicine and don't be afraid of vaccinations. No need to risk the lives of children!”