Protecting children in Kenya from vaccine-preventable diseases
Ministry of Health hosts a National Immunization Stakeholders Forum
By Daisy Serem-Esinapwaka
NAIROBI, Kenya, 21 February 2017 - Kenya has made leaps and bounds in its efforts to immunize children against deadly diseases. An estimated 8 out of 10 children are fully vaccinated by their first birthday with vaccine formulations provided against 10 childhood diseases. As such, there has been a significant reduction in cases of childhood pneumonia, polio, diarrhoea, measles, and other diseases that threaten the lives of children.
Despite the tremendous progress over the years, there are still thousands of children who miss out on this life-saving intervention, exposing them and all of Kenya to disease outbreaks, especially measles and polio.
The Ministry of Health, in partnership with UNICEF, WHO, GAVI, USAID, the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) and other partners, held a National Immunization Stakeholders Consultative Forum from 20-21 February 2017 at the Gelian Hotel in Machakos County. The forum hosted county health officials from all of Kenya’s 47 counties providing an opportunity for them to review their performance and address the challenges in reaching every child.
The Cabinet Secretary for Health, Dr. Cleophas Mailu, officiated the ceremony and urged the participants, “Let us not be comfortable and assume we are doing well. We must do more by examining and interrogating our immunization programme to address stagnating progress.”
The disparities in immunization coverage in Kenya reflect the country’s inequities. Most of the missed children are from poor and less educated households, under-developed regions especially thearid and semi-arid lands (ASAL) and urban informal settlements (mainly in Nairobi and Mombasa). These vulnerable and marginalized populations contribute to the high number of under or un-vaccinated children in Kenya.
The national and county governments struggle to reach these missing children who often live in hard to reach regions or nomadic communities, whilst others are victims of inhibiting cultural or religious beliefs that condemn healthcare. Nonetheless, by working together more strategic and innovative approaches can be developed to reach every last child with vaccines.
The UNICEF Kenya Representative, Werner Schultink says, “We need to analyze and identify who these children are and why they are missing out on their right to immunization. Only then can we be more precise in our approach to reach them.”
UNICEF is committed to supporting the county governments in protecting more children than ever before. Working with the GAVI Alliance and the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (KEMSA), we are improving the procurement of vaccines and enhancing the supply chain for lifesaving commodities. More county health teams can work with UNICEF to benefit from this reliable and affordable system.
During the two-day conference the Ministry of Health also launched the results of the 2016 Measles, Rubella and Neonatal Tetanus Vaccination Campaign. The campaign delivered momentous results with 19 million children immunized against these deadly diseases -- achieving 95 per cent immunization coverage.
Elgeyo Marakwet in North West Kenya was awarded the best performing county with 99 per cent immunization coverage.
UNICEF Kenya was also awarded for its support to Kenya’s routine immunization programme and the 2016 Measles, Rubella and Neonatal Tetanus Immunization campaign.
In closing, Dr. Mailu says, “We have a collective responsibility to keep our country free of vaccine-preventable diseases. There is no reason why we should have below 90 per cent immunization coverage in the country.”