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Accessing hard to reach communities during the Measles and Rubella campaign

by Tapuwa Loreen Mutseyekwa

©UNICEF Namibia/2016/T. Mutseyekwa - Jackson Muhanda's three grandchildren were among the earliest to be vaccinated against measles and rubella during Namibia’s Measles Rubella vaccination campaign.


Zambezi Region, Namibia , 18 June – For the next three weeks, Jackson Muhanda together with wife Rosemary and their three infant grandchildren, will camp along the shores of Lake Liambezi in the Zambezi Region of Namibia, joining hundreds of other men and women who rely on this huge water body to make a living.

As the earliest rays of the sun rise, they brave the blistering cold waters and tactfully evade the dangers of the water animals as they seek economic reprieve through catching fish or through selling of wares to the fishermen. 

Jackson skilfully identifies hippopotamus spoors and avoids areas where he knows his family will be endangered by the wild water animals.  He also knows that protection of his family goes beyond wading off the physical threats of wild animals, but speaks competently about the importance of protecting his grandchildren from diseases.

“My grandchildren are still very young and their young bodies can easily get diseases,” says Jackson, as he throws in his weight behind the ongoing Measles/Rubella mass vaccination campaign in Namibia.

His three grandchildren were therefore the earliest to be vaccinated at Muyako clinic, before the family embarked on the 30km retreat to camp by the shores of Lake Liambezi where they collect river reeds and sell to the fishermen and other potential customers.

“Our line of work requires that we spend as many days and hours as possible here, but it was more important for me to devote some time to have the children receive their vaccination shots before coming to camp here.”

This testimony of the dedication to children’s health and well-being, has resonated throughout the country, as Namibia embarked on a two week long mass campaign to vaccinate all people aged 09 months to 39 years against Measles/Rubella.

Triggered by sporadic incidences of measles diseases over the last two years, the Government of Namibia, with the technical and logistical support from UNICEF and WHO have traversed the width and breadth of Namibia to ensure that more that 79% of the country’s population is vaccinated as a way to eliminate the disease from the country.

Within the year 2015, more 1 071 cases of measles were recorded in the Namibia. In the Zambezi region, where the Muhanda family live, nine laboratory confirmed cases were documented.

vaccination
© UNICEF Namibia/2016/T. Mutseyekwa
Fishermen and women along Lake Liambezi sometimes find it difficult to access health services as they spend long tedious hours along shores of the lake, trying to make a living

Both Measles and Rubella are highly contagious diseases which attack the respiratory system and weaken the immune system. Measles in particular affects millions of children throughout Africa, a continent already fraught by other childhood related diseases such as diarrhoea and malnutrition and where health facilities are few and apart.  The two week long campaign is therefore an opportunity to intensify efforts to reduce illness and death due to Measles in Namibia and also introduce Rubella containing vaccine to the vaccination schedule of the country.

“The introduction of this vital vaccine into our health delivery system is yet another commendable milestone in Namibia’s efforts to minimise the risk and consequences arising from vaccine preventable diseases,” said UNICEF Representative, Micaela Marques de Sousa. “Experiences from countries where this vaccine has been introduced, have shown that the MR vaccine is very safe and is 95% effective in preventing measles and rubella diseases from communities.” 

An effective strategy during the campaign in Namibia, has been to access communities such as the fishermen along Lake Liambezi, whose arduous assignment takes them away from basic social services such as health. 

Mobile teams have therefore been present among these men and women to bring vaccination service closer to them. As a significant intervention, UNICEF and WHO have also supported the Ministry of Health and Social Services to impart vital information to the targeted population so that there is knowledge and acceptance on the value and safety of the vaccination and other health services. 

Ministry of Health and Social Services officials, who interact with the community here, highlight that the fishermen are not resistant to seeking any health interventions, but are often hesitant to leave their nets for too long to go to the nearest clinic which is more than 30km away.  Bringing the service to the people has therefore been a positive strategy. 

After eating a hurried meal, Jackson and his family are confident to meet the demands of yet another day.  They know their health is well covered and now look forward to accruing the best economic returns from the three week stay away from home.

 

 
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