Vaccines are free - but some still miss out on them

Many of the diseases that kill children in Mali are entirely preventable. Unfortunately, only 45 per cent of children in Mali receive all the recommended vaccinations

By Fatou Diagne
 Fatoumata Toungara avec son enfant Aboubacar Bah, âgé de 9 mois, qui vient de guérir de la rougeole grâce à une réponse rapide du centre de santé local et à un traitement adéquat.
UNICEF Mali/2019/Keita
28 April 2019

"Aboubacar was in good health and was doing very well,” remembers his mother, Fatoumata Tounguara. “Then one day he suddenly started having a high fever. I thought it was teething. Then he started to have red eyes and small pimples all over his body, and his other brothers and sisters began to develop the same symptoms. We were worried and we all took them to the community health center. The doctor told us that they had measles.”

Aboubacar Bah, 9 months old, is Fatoumata’s youngest child and the latest addition to a family of six children. Fatoumata admits that Aboubacar has never been vaccinated, nor have any of his brothers and sisters.

His case isn’t an isolated one. Here in the village of Sadiola, in Mali’s western Kayes region, many children from vulnerable families are only partially vaccinated – or not vaccinated at all.

Fortunately for the family, Aboubacar and his brothers and sisters were immediately taken care of by the community health center of Sadiola and they are now recovered and healthy. After the episode, the children were vaccinated, and a vaccination campaign was immediately started in the village to prevent any further spread.   

"As soon as a case of measles is confirmed, a response is immediately launched by treating the case and starting a vaccination campaign to eradicate it," explains Adama Traore, who has been a vaccinator at the Sadiola health center for more than 10 years.

Mariam Bah avec ses deux enfants Assétou, 9 ans, et Himourana, 5 ans, demi-soeurs d'Aboubacar. Ils ont tous eu la rougeole, mais ont maintenant récupéré.
UNICEF Mali/2019/Keita

Even though reducing child and maternal deaths are priorities for the Government of Mali and its partners, every tenth child in Mali still dies before reaching its fifth birthday. Many of the diseases that kill children in Mali are entirely preventable. Unfortunately, only 45 per cent of children in Mali receive all the recommended vaccinations and 14 per cent receive no vaccination at all, violating their right to protection from common childhood illnesses.

''After our kids were treated for measles, they were all vaccinated and thank God, they are all healthy now''

Kayes region has an even lower immunization rate for children: only 41 per cent of children here have received all their basic vaccines. Difficulties of access to care for the most vulnerable families and insufficient mobilization of the parents are the main barriers to the complete vaccination of every child.

New and innovative approaches, such as digital registers of children vaccinated, and additional vaccination sessions at places where people gather – such as markets, schools, mosques and major bus stations – are being leveraged to achieve results, and communication and social mobilization during vaccination campaigns are being strengthened.

UNICEF also supports improvements to the cold chain by installing solar-powered refrigerators, which help keep vaccines at a constant temperature. By 2021, almost 2,000 solar-fridges will be installed throughout Mali, including in Kayes.

 Mariam Cissé et sa fille Awa Diarra, âgée de 18 mois, à qui on donne sa dose de vitamine A sur le marché du plateau de Kayes.
UNICEF Mali/2019/Keita

But in the meantime, vaccinators and healthcare professionals are sparing no effort to ensure children are protected against common illnesses. A few meters from the Aboubacar family, another family has just arrived at the Sadiola community health center. Their seven-year-old daughter, Aissata*, who is visibly very weak, has a red tongue, small pimples on her body and a fever of over 39 degrees. The Technical Director of Sadiola Community Health Center, Dr. Amadoun Yalcouyé confirms that this is a typical case of measles.

''I never wanted to vaccinate my children and today I'm afraid of losing my daughter. I see her suffer and I tell myself all this because of a vaccine that is free''

After diagnosing Aissata's case, Dr. Amadoun decided to immediately put her on intravenous rehydration. Aminata Diallo, her mother, now regrets not having vaccinated her children. "I never wanted to vaccinate my children and today I am afraid of losing my daughter,” she frets. “I see her suffering and I tell myself, all this because of a vaccine that is free."

 Aissata, 7 ans, a la rougeole.
UNICEF Mali/2019/Keita

After a few hours of hospitalization, little Aissata is released and can return home, her condition much better.

In recent months, the Government of Mali and its technical and financial partners have embarked on a process of reform of the national health system in view of the worrying levels of infant & child mortality as well as maternal and neonatal mortality. The reform will provide for free healthcare for children under five, making access to healthcare easier for the most vulnerable and isolated families.

''We brought our children to the traditional healers but now that the care is free, I would bring mine to the health center''

 Adama Traoré, vaccinateur au centre de santé de Sadiola, récupère les vaccins dans un réfrigérateur solaire.
UNICEF Mali/2019/Keita