Protecting children from vaccine-preventable diseases in Vanuatu

Supporting parents to ensure children get the best start in life

Rebecca Olul
Precilla proudly holds up the fully vaccinated certificate for her baby, Mazarnie Vira.
UNICEFPacific/2022/Olul
18 February 2022

Midwife Roslinda Narwayeng enters the bustling maternal child health (MCH) clinic at the George Pompidou area in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Tuesdays are busy days for this lively clinic, ensconced firmly in the heart of Vanuatu’s capital city, that sees over 220 babies every month.

A midwife of eight years but a nurse for almost 20 years and acting in-charge at the clinic, Midwife Roslinda has a team of two other midwives, and a nurse’s aide.

The team sets up early and starts the day at 8am, welcoming babies, mothers, and fathers to their clinic.

The ‘Pikinini Helt Buk’ or ‘Child Health Book’ is a great resource for both healthcare workers and parents. Midwife Roslinda (left) guides a trainee nurse on tips for counselling of parents and caregivers on important topics like vaccination.
The ‘Pikinini Helt Buk’ or ‘Child Health Book’ is a great resource for both healthcare workers and parents. Midwife Roslinda (left) guides a trainee nurse on tips for counselling of parents and caregivers on important topics like vaccination.

“I always begin my clinics and outreach with a health talk,” said Roslinda. “In all my years of working, I have found that mothers only want to know about vaccines and that it’s good for their babies, then they have no problem bringing babies for checks and vaccines.”

“Fathers are also increasingly interested,” she added. “They want to know what vaccine their child is getting and what it is for.”

Two of the first babies to arrive that morning, 4-month-old Mania Tom and 12-month-old Mazarnie Vira, come with their mothers for their routine checks and to get their vaccines.

Mania, a bubbly little girl, gurgles at the nurses happily. The nurse counsels her mother and gives Mania a dose of IPV, her third doses of the pentavalent and polio vaccines as well as the newly introduced pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines.

“After I had my baby, the midwives told me to bring her to this clinic for her stik meresin,” said Leimala Tom, Mania’s mother.

“This is our fourth visit. It’s important that my baby gets all her stik meresin to help protect her from vaccine-preventable diseases.”

Leimala Tom with her 4-month-old baby, Mania Tom.
Leimala Tom with her 4-month-old baby, Mania Tom.

Stik meresin is the word in Bislama, Vanuatu’s lingua franca, widely used throughout the country for vaccines. This is a word that every mother knows. From the first antenatal checks, the nurses begin the process of educating mothers on theirs and their baby’s health.

It is another word that means to love and protect your baby. Mothers know they have to bring their babies back to the clinics for checks and for their vaccines at 6 weeks, 10 weeks, 14 weeks, and 12 months.

One-year-old Mazarnie is a lot more subdued, scrutinizes the nurse solemnly. Today, she would receive her final vaccine in the under one’s schedule to protect her from measles and rubella.

“My baby has received all of her stik meresin in the book,” said mother, Precilla Vira. “I am glad that today she is fully protected.”

Precilla gestures at the green book beside her baby and proudly holds up the fully vaccinated certificate.

The ‘Pikinini Helt Buk’ or ‘Child Health Book’ is a great resource for both healthcare workers and parents. It contains all the information that a parent needs, starting from vaccines, breastfeeding, complementary feeding, childhood illnesses, and ending with a growth monitoring chart.

Both mothers are determined to protect their babies from diseases like tuberculosis, rotavirus, pneumococcal, measles, and rubella. The knowledge that stik meresin is an important way to do this propels the mothers to return time and time again with their babies.

The hopes and dreams of Leimala and Precilla, mothers of Mania and Mazarnie, are shared by Midwife Roslinda. The only difference is that for Roslinda, this dream is bigger than just these two babies, it is a dream for over 2,700 babies under the age of one who visit her clinic throughout the year.

UNICEF Pacific would like to thank the Japan Committee, Vaccines for the World’s Children (JCV) for their financial contribution to strengthening immunization system in Vanuatu. This partnership also ensured continuity of support to the Vanuatu Ministry of Health for procurement of vaccines, syringes, safety boxes, and solar refrigerators for vaccine storage.