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So close but yet so far - reaching children in Kenya’s urban areas with life-saving vaccines

© UNICEFKenya/2016/Noorani
A child receives new Penta vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), hepatitis B and poliomyelitis (polio), in a MCH Clinic at UNICEF-supported Mukuru Health Centre in Nairobi.

Sicilia Obwoge, 21, and her husband Joseph, 23, gaze at their newborn baby sleeping peacefully under a mosquito net at their home in the Mukuru informal settlements in Nairobi.

The young couple welcomed their daughter Lakeshia into the world one week ago, and they are beaming with love and pride. They speak in hushed tones so as not to wake her, but the sounds of the city outside still filter in through the window.

Joseph and Sicilia live in a small, one-room house made from corrugated iron sheets, in one of Nairobi’s largest informal settlements. Space is limited here, and families make do with what they can afford. For Joseph, a casual labourer earning less than US$5 a day, and Sicilia, a housewife, it isn’t much. And even as they peer down at their sleeping beauty, the new dad is worried about how he will provide and care for his growing family.

The Obwoge’s story is shared by millions of other Kenyans living in urban informal settlements. They work hard, earn little and live under poor, crowded and hazardous conditions. Children born into these homes face multiple deprivations that limit their potential in life. The first being access to affordable quality healthcare, including immunization.

In recent years, Kenya has made tremendous progress in reaching every child with life-saving vaccines. Eight vaccine formulations, procured by UNICEF, are provided against ten childhood diseases free of charge in all public health facilities. But far too many children still miss out on this service.

In 2016, an estimated 350,000 children did not receive all of their scheduled vaccines. Many of them came from poor households, in urban informal settlements where health facilities are few and offer low quality service. It is therefore no surprise that Nairobi has one of the highest number of unvaccinated children in Kenya.

© UNICEFKenya/2016/Noorani
Holding her newborn, only seven days old, Sicilia Kemunto, 21, sits inside a mosquito net in her house in the poor neighbourhood of Mukuru, Nairobi.

But for parents struggling to survive, the only numbers that matter are the kind that put food on the table.

UNICEF Kenya Health Specialist Peter Okoth says, “Caregivers spend a lot of time working for their livelihood. The time to go to hospital is constrained. We are therefore advocating for facilities to open over the weekend to meet the needs of these children.”

Back at the Obwoge’s home, a Community Health Volunteer has come for her first home visit. Susan Aleka dedicates her time and energy to serve the residents of Mukuru and keep children healthy. She is one of 4,500 volunteers that support the Nairobi health system, bringing basic health services to the doorsteps of those that need it most.

Today Susan is visiting Joseph and Sicilia to monitor the baby’s progress, share valuable health information and also remind them of Lakeshia’s routine immunization schedule.

“I have worked with this family ever since the baby was conceived,” she says. “I convinced Sicilia to regularly attend the antenatal clinics and deliver in hospital. Now I must ensure baby Lakeshia is protected from diseases through vaccination, exclusive breastfeeding and practicing safe hygiene and sanitation.”

Community Health Workers are a lifeline for the Expanded Programme for Immunization (EPI) in Kenya. By linking with health facilities, they are able to trace children who are missing out on their vaccinations and check up on them. They go the distance, door to door, to ensure that families are aware of the importance of immunization and how to access this life-saving intervention.

For parents like Joseph and Sicilia, this is one less weight on their shoulders.

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With the support of UNICEF and World Health Organization, the Ministry of Health has undertaken numerous mass immunization campaigns. These campaigns target the poorest and most vulnerable children to safeguard their right to survive and thrive.

In 2016, 19 million children (9 months to 14 years of age) were vaccinated against measles and rubella – Kenya’s most successful immunization campaign. Urban areas such as Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu cities recorded high numbers of vaccinated children, protecting them from these killer diseases.

 

 
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