Meet the faces behind the masks

Heroes don’t wear capes, and the doctors working during the pandemic proved it best.

Leonora Aliu
Faces Behind the Mask
UNICEF/2020/L. Aliu
13 July 2020

A huge picture of the famous film hero “Spiderman” is hanging on the wall of the immunization room at the Family Health Centre in Prizren. It is intended to give courage to children who visit that department to get vaccinated and to protect from viruses and diseases. But it is not Spiderman the one doing this job. A long time before he existed as a character, the role of heroes in Prizren was played by doctor Arsim Berisha, Chief of the Immunization Program at FHC in Prizren and his 21 colleagues. Their work did not stop during the pandemic either. Divided into 16 health units, 1 doctor and 21 nurses were doing everything they could to vaccinate, respectively protect, children from infectious diseases.

Vaccination according to the regular schedule in Kosovo, defined by the National Public Health Institute, was interrupted on March 24 due to the safety measures taken by the Kosovo institutions as preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Work started on May 4, 2020, restarting with regular vaccination of children. “From that date we started vaccinating 911 children,” doctor Arsim Berisha says.

He also says that in 2020 they have to vaccinate 12,033 children, which means 1,002 children per month.

“For me vaccination is a must because it protects children from severe infectious diseases. We are here to stop that from happening, committed to provide full protection. With regards to the role of vaccines, I cannot stress this enough. The pandemic showed how important it is to have vaccines against infectious viruses,” doctor Berisha says.

UNICEF/2020/L. Aliu

Among the staff working with him is also doctor Daut Avdullahu, who for 36 years has been serving in the vaccination program. Health workers like Daut Avdullahu have reminded many people that heroes existed long before Hollywood created them. In our daily lives, doctors, bakers, firefighters, police officers, journalists, grocery workers, etc. are the ones providing us a more quality life every day.

As a sign of recognition for the work of doctors who are working and have been working for decades in protecting children, the UNICEF Kosovo Office, in May this year, started the campaign “Faces behind masks”, thus bringing to the opinion a picture of the health staff that has worked throughout the pandemic in the immunization of children. Doctors and nurses were interviewed in seven family health facilities throughout Kosovo, who, with their job, are bringing health services to the community every day, especially to those in need.

This is also a result of the support of the Government of Luxembourg which has supported the immunization process by supporting the supply of tends at each Facility, in order to guarantee safe immunization of children during the pandemic, and to avoid children’s contact with potentially infected people.

In the meantime, UNICEF Kosovo Office supported the health staff with personal protection equipment the entire time since the World Health Organization announced COVID-10 a pandemic. This support has been appreciated mostly by the parents of the children who were immunized. One of them is mother Rozafa who, because of the pandemic, did not manage to immunize her 18 month old baby. However, after setting the tent at the Family Health Center in Prishtina, she managed to make an appointment and send her daughter for vaccination. “It is very good, it is very important for me that my child is healthy and I was looking forward to bringing her here,” she says.

In cases when parents were not able to send their children for vaccination due to poor conditions, lack of transport, or other physical problems, health workers reached them, thanks to the home-visiting program – another UNICEF initiative implemented by the Ministry of Health with the support of the Government of Luxembourg – door to door. This was the case, for instance, in the municipality of Vushtrri, where the medical staff managed to immunize children in 14 villages, whose parents could not manage to send their children at the Family Health Center in Vushtrri.

“For different reasons, sometimes economic, sometimes medical, etc. some parents are not able to bring their children. Thanks to the home visiting program we managed to accurately identify those families, their needs and the children in the age for immunization. When they could not come, we went to them,” Adlije Shaqiri – Kurti says, coordinator of Home Visiting Program in Vushtrri and at the same time a supporter of the immunization program in this municipality.

Since regular immunization restarted on May 4, 2020 until now, these heroes have managed to vaccinate 7750 children around Kosovo. All of them have expressed the same conviction during the meetings and interviews with UNICEF: “Vaccine saves lives.”