Protecting public health for two decades
Some professions are strongly connected with the very existence and well-being of human beings.
Some professions are strongly connected with the very existence and well-being of human beings. As such, they are carried out by professionals with special responsibility and honor. The emotional connection becomes even stronger when they perform their duties diligently for more than two decades.
Florije Rashani, Chief Nurse at the Main Family Medicine Center, evokes memories from Kosovo's past, when many children and others died from communicable diseases. Therefore, vaccinating children for her is more than a job- it is an act of service which has accompanied her daily duties for 24 years.
As a nurse responsible for vaccination in the Prishtina region, Florije has many memories of the of the times when health professionals had to fight to make sure every child was vaccinated.
"After the war, the percentage of vaccination was very low. We were engaged in the field intensively to vaccinate everyone according to the vaccination calendar, even reaching the most remote villages and hardest to reach communities," Flora states.
She remembers outreach campaigns such as the one in 2003, when they worked around the clock to vaccinate every child against paralysis.
Another important memory that Flora shares is from the year 2017, when measles came back to Kosovo as a result of the increase in the numbers of unvaccinated children.
"I remember the first case identified; it was an unvaccinated child who had traveled to another country. For two months, we were intensively engaged; we closed pre-school institutions where unvaccinated children against measles were found, collected data for all schools, and sent vaccination notices to parents of unvaccinated children, called them, and were constantly in the field. By the end of the year, the positive result was evident," says Flora.
Flora strongly believes that the public's doubts on vaccines, created by misinformation, were the main cause of decline in MMR vaccination. She encountered this vaccine hesitancy in conversations with parents, especially during COVID-19 pandemic. Health professionals are still working tirelessly to minimize the consequences of the continued spread of misinformation, especially through social media.
"They come to vaccinate the child with only some vaccines from the routine immunization calendar but are hesitant about the MMR vaccine. We, as health professionals, constantly emphasize the importance of protection through each vaccine," says Flora, who adds that these conversations need to be intensified.
According to MICS, 73% of children aged 24-35 months in Kosovo are fully immunized and protected from vaccine-preventable diseases. However, immunization coverage among children of Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian communities is much lower, with only 38% of children fully immunized. UNICEF supports institutions in Kosovo to procure quality life-saving vaccines, and promotes awareness and uptake of vaccination at the community level. Ensuring every child is protected from vaccine-preventable diseases is essential to public health and the healthy development of children.
With the generous support of USAID, UNICEF worked together with the Ministry of Health to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, including through vaccination campaigns. In partnership with USAID, UNICEF is also helping the health system in Kosovo to recover from the consequences of the pandemic by strengthening the vaccine cold chain system and promoting routine immunization, especially among marginalized groups.